Omagari Hanabi – Structure & Highlights

Every year over 700,000 spectators gather for the Omagari Hanabi National Fireworks Competition, which comprises two main parts, Day Fireworks and Night Fireworks. It is the only fireworks competition in Japan that includes a daytime event. During the Day Fireworks, the competitors shoot off five 14cm shells. Night Fireworks consists of a 28cm pistil Warimono (a type of fireworks that scatters to form a sphere), a 28cm freestyle shell and a Creative Fireworks piece, which is a style originating in Daisen. Twenty-eight elite hanabi factories from across Japan compete in this prestigious competition, with the overall winner receiving the coveted Prime Minister’s Prize.
The Secret of Japan’s Best Venue
The competition venue is the Omono riverbank, which stretches about 240,000m2. Both the spectators who have been enjoying this historical competition for a hundred year and the hanabi artists from all over Japan admire this location. A roughly 130m wide Omono River between the launching spots and the audience sites creates a perfect distance to experience the power of the sound and light of the fireworks. The explosive sound echoes because of Mt. Taihei (also known as Mt. Himegami or Mt. Nishi / 387.6m). In addition, there is little light at night as the surrounding area comprises agricultural land. The sunset glows on Mt. Taihei’s ridge and increases the expectation by the time the Day Fireworks commences, and the enveloping darkness of the night accentuates the effects of the fireworks.
Supporting the Competition
A crowd of over 700,000 spectators gather every year from all over Japan for the Omagari Hanabi National Fireworks Competition. It is a major task to make preparations for the massive flow of people at the venue and addressing traffic congestions on the surrounding streets. Plans for traffic regulations and safety management are prepared more than a month ahead of the event. On the day of the competition, over 1,500 people, including the police, firemen, security guards, and city officials work to safeguard the audience. The people in Omagari wish to organize the event in such a way that hanabi artists can show their best performance and the audience can enjoy hanabi safely and securely. This spirit of hospitality has been passed on for a hundred years.
Arranging the Venue
The local constructors, electronics companies, event management companies, and billboard design companies organize the audience sites and the launching spots and set up the gallery area. The launching spots need to be mowed and disinfected. The gallery, including the areas with chairs, can accommodate 350,000 people. The arrangements include a scaffolding, attached veneer boards, 1,000 temporary toilets, projectors, billboards, and electricity connection.
Managing and Guiding the Competition
In order to ensure the safety and security of the 700,000 spectators, the Omagari city office manages and guides people outside the venue, and the Omagari Chamber of Commerce and Industry overseas the indoor arrangements. Police officers or firemen are posted at the entrance/exit or emergency routes. They pay the utmost attention to guiding the audience, emergency response, and prevention of any untoward incidents. Also, about 100 students volunteer to guide people at the venue every year.
Moderating the Competition (Announcing/Calling)
Moderating the competition with calls such as “Dai-ichi-go!” (meaning the first hanabi factory to perform in the program) is unique to Omagari Hanabi. This moderation style starting with the calls has not changed from the beginning of the competition, and Omagari Hanabi is now popular for it. Those who announce and call wish to support the annual Omagari Hanabi National Fireworks Competition so that hanabi artists can give their best performance.
After the Competition
The venue gets mowed and cleaned with the help of the Silver Human Resources Center and the contractors who helped set it up. In conjunction with the neighborhood associations, the riverbank is cleaned within a day of the competition. The amount of waste generated in the 2017 competition was 60.25t. The volunteers and the organizing members also request the audience to segregate their waste.
People at the Shopping Street
Members of the Omagari Chamber of Commerce and Industry make donations to the management of the competition every year. Also, each of them livens up the event by working as a committee member or setting up a stall, which people visit before the fireworks performance begins.
Interaction with the Spectators – Penlight Ceremony
A Penlight Ceremony initially started as a way to thank the hanabi artists for their great fireworks by waiving their flashlight. The hanabi artists on the other side of the Omono river wave back with their torch and see the audience off. This ceremony was established as an exchange of cheers after the performance. The view from the launching area is as colorful and beautiful as the fireworks in the night sky. The Penlight Ceremony started at the 67th competition in 1993.
Judging the Performance
The 16 judges comprised government officials, university professors, artists, and locals, including two people from the Japan Pyrotechnics Association and Akita Prefecture, who check if the security standards are met. Monitoring the work is very difficult. However, Omabari Hanabi tries to lay out what is expected of each type of fireworks, and the judges focus on whether the work matches the theme. Any fireworks can be enjoyable to witness, but some judges say that the quality of fireworks in this competition is higher than in ordinary events.
Recovering from the Torrential Rains and Flooding – 2017, 91st National Fireworks Competition
Two days before the competition, Omagari in Daisen City received 166.5mm of rain within 24 hours, the highest ever recorded in August. The Omono River was flooded in three parts of the city, causing severe damage. Almost all the 30,000 gallery seats on the river bank and the electric wiring for setting off the fireworks were covered with water. Questions were raised as to whether the event should be conducted, but the organizers immediately began the restoration process. They began clearing the dirt and waster, sterilized the audience area, and reinstalled temporary toilets. Their passionate efforts resulted in the competition being conducted as usual.