Update: The Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival (宮島水中花火大会) was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid pandemic and thenTokyo Olympics. The last festival was held in 2019 and it has been discontinued since 2022 and there has been no plans to bring back the festival as the organisers faced overcrowding and safety problems for years. The first festival was held in 1973 and the long-running festival attracted many visitors over the year. Similar scale fireworks festivals have been organised in 2023. After learning about that the festival will not be organised anymore, I feel so thankful to have the chance to witness this spectacular firework show on the sacred island in 2014. If you are curious about the festival and my experiences, read more below!
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 (宮島水中花火大会) 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 composed of Itsukushima Shrine forming the center of the trinity with the sea in the foreground and mountains in the background. While the island is widely known as Miyajima, which means “island” in Japanese, its official name is Itsukushima.
Miyajima is believed to be the “Island of Gods” where God dwells 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 hospitals or cemeteries are allowed to be built on it.
During the festival in August (the last festival was in 2019), the serenity of the island was suspended by the fireworks extravaganza that attracted over 30,000 people. The main attraction of the festival was the fireworks show centreed around the iconic vermillion “floating” 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, commoners had to steer their boats through the torii gate when they paid respects to the Shrine.
The torii gate appears to be “floating” when the tide is high. However, the imposing 6 pillar-structure actually stands on the seabed by its own weight. During high tide, the gate “floats” mystically with the ebb and flow of the sea. During low tide, visitors could walk on the seabed and examine the majestic torii gate at close proximity.
On the day of the festival, crowds started arriving on the island early in the morning. Coveted viewing spots were snapped up by professional photographers. After marking their territory with picnic mats, most people checked out sightseeing spots like Itsukushima Shrine, Daisho-in temple and Mount Misen to enjoy panoramic views of the Seto Inland Sea.
By late afternoon, the anticipation of the fireworks show could be felt in the bustling Omote-Sando shopping street and Machiya Street. While waiting for the night to fall, some people rested in their viewing spots and others took the opportunity to get up close and personal with the torii gate.
As light faded from the sky with the vanishing sunset, fervent excitement fillsedthe island. Finally the fireworks performance commenced with a fantastical combination of aerial and water pyrotechnics. The highlight of the show was 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 were 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 reached a climax when kaleidoscopic fireworks exploded in rapid succession and envelope the sky, ocean and torii gate with a dazzling finale. It was difficult to capture photos and videos with my amateurish equipment so let’s check out a video by a professional and enjoy the virtual firework show!
After the festival ended, the ferry terminal was congested with floods of people leaving the island. Extra ferries and trains were 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
- Take JR Sanyo line and stop at JR Miyajimaguchi Station or take Hiroshima tram and stop at Miyajimaguchi Station.
- From Miyajimaguchi Station, walk to ferry terminal (JR or Matsudai) (10 minutes, 180 yen one way). The Japan Rail Pass is valid on JR ferries.
- From ferry terminal, walk 10 minutes to Itsukushima Shrine.
By direct boat (World Heritage Site Sea Route)
- From Hiroshima Peace Park to Miyajima ferry terminal (55 minutes, 2000 yen one way, 3600 yen round trip).
- The crowds are crazy so it is nice to stay overnight on the island after the fireworks show as you don’t have to spend a long time getting onto the ferry and travel back to Hiroshima city. The island is very magical when the crowds have left and you can enjoy quiet moments exploring the temple and attractions.
- Book your accommodation and ferry tickets early! Like at least 6 months before the festival. I planned my trip quite late and I could not find affordable accommodation. I thought I was clever to book a camping spot and rent a tent at Tsutsumigaura campsite. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the campsite (it is quite far from the fireworks spot), I found out that the tent I rented was wet and filled with unwelcome intruders (bugs). So I ended up homeless, slept outside the camping site toilet, and was woken by a deer who poked my feet. Camping is fine if you have your outdoor equipment.
- Reserve a viewing spot early in morning on the day of the festival. You can use a picnic mat, bottles of water, and even rocks!
Visit the official Hiroshima website for more information!
A version of article was published in ANA Experience Japan website 2016-2018.