Natsu Matsuri in Gifu

Though I am basically just hiding from the heat while Superman works and sleeps and works again, we did manage to get out on August 2nd  and take in the fireworks in Gifu. Gifu is somewhere that I have longed to go all my life as they have some astonishing flower festivals in Spring.  I’m delighted to know it will be an easy drive so I can take as much camera equipment and picnic gear as I like! (Assuming we finally have our Japanese licenses by Springtime!)
The fireworks were, of course, beautiful and went for about three hours all up AND no silly music, popular or otherwise, to bare with as there usually is in Australia. It was simply tens of thousands of people happily celebrating the beauty of light and fire.

At 3pm we met some of our new friends/Superman’s colleagues at the Golden Clock in Nagoya Station to take the 45min train trip to Gifu Eki. From there we joined the long queue sauntering through the heat for about 10mins to the bus terminal to get into the blissful airconditioning of the buses instead of walking for 45mins in the heat.

As I was previewing this picture I noticed the man in the yukata and his partner are looking at the camera (she is making the ubiquitous “V” symbol) This is something I have noticed a lot when uploading photos here, I rarely take pictures OF people exactly but blow me down if the Japanese aren’t as aware of a camera as a cat! Now, you may say “Hey, I saw the pic of your camera in a previous post and it’s pretty hard to miss.” Sure, I’ll give you that – but here’s the same shot with my zoom lens set at 50mm equivalent (that’s human eye equivalent)…

I call that Eagle-eyed!

Natsu Matsuri (Summer festival) is an excuse for the girls who wish to do so to dress up in their light, cotton Yukatas. I am told that they can be cooler than dressing up in modern clothes but it depends how heavy your obi is and how tightly you tie it around your waist – mostly, though it is a full dress-up occasion and comfort has little to do with it!

The Yukata fun is not just for the girls!

I’d suggest that mostly the men did it to impress the girl they were taking to the event (lots of couples there being sweetly romantic) but it’s entirely possible that they simply wanted to. Japanese men LOVE to dress themselves up and primp away at least as much as the girls, if not more!

So, the bus took us through Gifu to the banks of the river (I think it’s called the Nagara.)  I’m not sure if the 200 yen we paid as we jumped off the bus was fare for the bus or an entrance fee but it was a pittance to pay for either!

This was the view from our spot – you can see the crowds across the river just beyond the bridge which was the prime spot in front of which the fireworks were fired and the low lying ones danced. To get those spots you had to be very, very early but we were happy being less crowded and saw plenty.

From the hills off camera to the right of the shot above, Gifu Castle watched over the scene. It was a loong way off (my zoom was at max for this shot) but I couldn’t help wondering what the fireworks must have been like from there!

Of course a festival isn’t a festival without sharing food – so we made our way back up to the road where there were lots of food stalls with delicious things-on-sticks!

The fireworks began about 45 minutes before sundown with some fireworks which didn’t so much sparkle as explode in multi-coloured smoke. They were few and far between and unfortunately those I managed to catch were badly exposed either one way or the other, as I fiddled with my settings trying to access the long-ago archived photography folder of my brain, in the fading light.

As the sparkling ones began, the dusk light made for some delicate colours, almost pastels…

At one stage, everything went pink and I turned to find the sky had gone all sentimental…

(this photo has been cropped to remove some head-silhouettes along the bottom but not colour-processed in any way – it was truly breathtaking)

At last, the sun set over Gifu…

And the show began!

This was my first chance to play with my camera and I was excited to take some fireworks shots but, as we were going with friends and I didn’t want to be too anti-social, I didn’t want to bring a tripod which is really essential for good fireworks shots. Nevertheless the handheld, and therefore faster (yet still too slow for the hand) shutter speed, made for some interesting effects not entirely un-pretty…

Zoom was fun too…

And this one was even a little eerie…

The audience was mostly silent but would ooh and ah and swell with “Sugoi!” (Amazing!) at the big fluffy ones which produced the most light but my favourites were some I hadn’t seen before which exploded in the shape of flowers…

and, my very favourite, butterflies…

or perhaps they were magnificent birds dancing for the joy of Summer…

Afterwards, the crowd made its way to the stone steps in the wall to  climb up from the grass. No amount of Pentax built-in Image Stabilization was going to make up for the jostling as I took this dreadful shot but I had to get it. Obviously we were already up by the time I took it, some 45 minutes after the fireworks ended – imagine how huge this pool of people was at the beginning!

Everyone was actually very patient and calm – we were just pushed together. I can’t imagine being given safety permission to hold an event with such a bottle neck of an exit in Australia!

The walk back to the station was leisurely in the warm (still 28 degrees) evening and had something of a community feel to it as we streamed through Gifu’s streets. The convenience stores en route were having what must be one of their biggest nights of the year as we all piled in to buy drinks and use their “facilities.” An hour and a bit later we were on the train and an hour after that enjoying cool, cool showers before collapsing happily into bed feeling it was worth breaking the vow not to leave the house till Autumn!

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