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Ojiya, Niigata Katakai Festival Asahara Shrine Annual Autumn Firework Dedication

By Yuko Iida
August 23, 2015
The massive 420kg “yonshakudama” of Katakai, renowned as the world's largest fireworks, carry the hopes of local residents in a spectacular legacy of the Edo period.

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Old schoolmates return home, and quiet neighborhoods begin to buzz.
Don those matching blue jackets, tie on the headbands, and let the festival commence.
What beats winding through the streets with companions, singing work songs as you pull a float under 15,000 shimmering fireworks?

Niigata is rice country, and over the two days of September 9 and 10 every year, as the golden years bow in anticipation of harvest, crowds gather from across Japan for the Katakai Festival held in the Niigata town of Katakai, Ojiya City. An estimated 15,000 fireworks are launched over the two-day festival, in a display that pulls out all the stops with two, five, ten successively larger fireworks launched one after another, while spectacular “star mine” displays fill the whole of the night sky.

The fireworks of Katakai began in the Edo period as offerings to the Asahara Shrine, home to the local Shinto deity. Listen carefully to the announcements at each launch: many are personal dedications such as “A long healthy life to you Grandma, from your grandchildren” and “You always loved fireworks, I hope you're watching this from up there,” special requests made to the fireworks operator. During daytime on the 10th, the day after the nighttime festival, “condolence” fireworks are launched, presumably visible to those who have passed to the other side. Star mine and sanshaku-size shells blast colored smoke with a succession of bangs in the blue late summer sky. Once again, the echo of fireworks through the shrine grounds after spectators have left signals the end of summer.

Listening to fireworks count down the end of summer.

On high school graduation classmates form firework cohorts, and launch fireworks up to their sixtieth or even ninetieth birthdays. Each group pulls a float, winding their way through the streets singing traditional work songs.

Katakai Festival
Asahara Shrine Annual Autumn Firework Dedication

Location:Katakai-machi, Ojiya-shi, Niigata
Dates:September 9 -10 every year
Time:7:30pm – 10:20pm
Yonshakudama launch:10pm both days
Getting there:Approximately 30 mins on Echigo Kotsu bus for Ojiya via Katakai from JR Joetsu Shinkansen Nagaoka Station, alight at Katakai Gonomachi and walk 10 minutes. Alternatively, take Echigo Kotsu bus for Nagaoka via Katakai from JR Joetsu Line Ojiya Station to Katakai Ninomachi (approx. 20 mins.), then walk for 10 minutes.

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