Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hana Bi (花火)(Fireworks)

Last Saturday, the Rotary Exchange gang met at Nagoya station. We traveled to a town called Toyohasi, where we made several presentations to students at a high school . I did a speech on what I thought about Japan before I left American and what I think now that I am here.

Afterwards, the students split us up into groups to teach us about calligraphy or origami. I was in one of the calligraphy groups. It`s a terrible feeling knowing that each ink stained stroke becomes a permanent fixture on the thin paper. But with paintbrush clutched in hand, I managed to write several decent looking Kanji.

Next, we boarded our bus and traveled down the road to a firework festival. We watched people dancing and singing as a shrine was carried back and forth through the crowd. It took a lot of people to carry the tall shrine and the men posted on top of it.

We then went to the fireworks area and sat on a low wooden platform only a few inches off the ground. There was a tatami mat spread across it, but it didn`t help with the discomfort that comes with a hard seat. There was a large stage off to the side of the fireworks area where we watched traditional Taiko drumming and a dance group preform as we waited for dusk.

As soon as dusk came, fireworks lit up the night sky in irredescent starbursts. Various other pyrotechnics began as well, including fireworks that wizzed sideways, guided only by a string stretched across the the arena. But it was the traditional Japanese fireworks that stole the show.

Men stood holding a tatami object that greatly resembles a cannon. It was pointed towards the sky and then the fuse was lit by hand. Soon a blaze of fire shooted upwards, over the men`s heads, with a roar. An entire line of these fireworks went off at once, creating a nearly solid wall of fire. Finally, a great boom pierced the air as each firework blasted upwards. Smoke filled the air and some of firework`s debris rained down on the crowd.

During the many intermissions, we watched in utter facination as Taiko drummers beat their instruments with wooden sticks. The drummers changed drums with elaborate spins and colorful flashes of clothing. The bass was as great as any I`ve ever experienced before at a concert. It swept over the crowd and captivated young and old alike.

By the end of the festival, the Taiko drums and fireworks began to go off at the same time. The rhythm of the drums and the great boom of the Hana Bi became one. No one knew whether to watch the wall of fire or the drummers. Both were equally captivating.

Then something new began to happen. Carried on the shoulders of many people, about 6 shrines were brought through the crowd and down the aisleways . Men posted on top of the shrines blew whistles and waived sticks with white material attached to them. An large entourage of people followed each shrine. It created a great roar, as the whistles blended with the shouts of the crowd and entorage, and the Taiko drums. Each shrine made its way inside the firework zone and was paraded around.

I`m afraid we had to leave a bit early to catch our train back to Nagoya, but we watched the last of the fireworks from a distance as we waited for our bus.

It was a night that none of us will ever forget.

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