The Spectacular Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival
Japan has a fascinating plethora of fireworks festivals tempting people out of the cool comforts of their homes every summer. While Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival is not Japan’s largest or most famous fireworks festival, it is definitely the most spectacular.
Designated as one of the three great scenic places in Japan, Miyajima’s breathtaking scenery is composed of three elements: Itsukushima Shrine, the center of the trinity, and the sea in the foreground, and mountains in the background. While the island is widely known as Miyajima, which means “shrine island” in Japanese, its official name is Itsukushima.
Miyajima is believed to be the “Island of Gods” where gods have dwelled since ancient times. Itsukushima Shrine was built offshore to respect the island’s spiritual sanctity. The island is considered so sacred that in order to preserve its purity, no cemeteries are allowed to be built on it.
Every year in August, the serenity of the island is suspended by the fireworks extravaganza that attracts about 30,000 people. The main attraction of the festival is the fireworks show, centered around the iconic vermillion “floating” great torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine. A symbol of Japan, the great torii gate marks the boundary between the spirit and the human worlds. In the past, people steered their boats through the great torii gate when they paid respects to the shrine.
The great torii gate appears to be “floating” when the tide is high. However, it stands up by its own weight. During high tide, the great torii gate “floats” mystically with the ebb and flow of the sea. During low tide, visitors can walk on the sandy beach and examine the majestic gate at close proximity.
On the day of the festival, crowds start arriving on the island early in the morning. Coveted viewing spots are snapped up by professional photographers. After marking their territory with picnic mats, most people visit sightseeing spots like Itsukushima Shrine, Daishoin Temple and Mount Misen to enjoy panoramic views of the Seto Inland Sea.
By late afternoon, the anticipation of the fireworks show can be felt in the bustling OmoteSando shopping street and Machiya Street. While waiting for the night to fall, some people rest and others take the opportunity to get up close and personal with the torii gate.
As light fades from the sky with the vanishing sunset, fervent excitement fills the island. Finally the fireworks performance commences with a fantastical combination of aerial and water pyrotechnics. The highlight of the show is the uniquely choreographed fireworks set off from offshore boats that explode over the water surface; illuminating the torii gate and casting brilliant reflections on the water.
About 200 out of the 5,000 fireworks used during the festival are launched from the water and behind the torii gate to illustrate seven scenes complementing each year's theme.
The cacophony of music, booming of fireworks and spectator’s cheers reaches a climax when kaleidoscopic fireworks explode in rapid succession and envelope the sky, ocean and torii gate with a dazzling finale.
After the festival ends, the ferry terminal is congested with floods of people leaving the island. Extra ferries and trains are added to ease human traffic. Staying overnight on the island is highly recommended. However, accommodations are limited so reservations should be made in advance. Those on budget can consider bringing a tent and booking a camping space in Tsusumigaura Nature Park.
Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival is definitely worth the effort of travelling to the island and enduring the crowds. Viewing the spectacular fireworks on this special island is truly a sublime experience that is unforgettable and unrivalled.
How to get to Miyajima
By train and ferry
1.Take the JR Sanyo Line and stop at JR Miyajimaguchi Station, or take the Hiroshima tram and stop at Miyajimaguchi Station.
2.From Miyajimaguchi Station, walk to the ferry terminal (JR or Matsudai) (10 minutes, 180 yen one way). The Japan Rail Pass is valid on JR ferries.
3.From the ferry terminal, walk 10 minutes to Itsukushima Shrine.
By direct boat (World Heritage Site Sea Route)
From Hiroshima Peace Park, a boat can take you directly to the Miyajima ferry terminal (55 minutes, 2000 yen one way, 3600 yen round trip).
This article was published in ANA Experience Japan website 2016-2018.