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Asian Spirit: Another Kim Hye-gyong    By Keiko Iwata
Chapter 1: The Chofu Fireworks
Asian Spirit Archive

About Asian Spirit

A compilation of nonfiction essays, the book comprises the experiences, both good and bad, that author Keiko Iwata shared with South Korean students living and studying in Japan.

About Keiko Iwata

Keiko Iwata is the representative of the NPO Heart Connections, which provides non-Japanese students with consultation services to help them solve problems related to living and studying in Japan. Iwata authored the book "Asian Spirit" (published in February 2004).

About Larry Greenberg

Larry Greenberg is the founder of Urban Connections Co. Ltd., an enterprising group of professionals that strives to provide innovative solutions to the latest challenges.

It was 2:48 a.m. on July 21. A woman received a text message from a girl.

"Wasn't it so much fun? I just got back from the sento (bathhouse) and I'm lying down now. It was such a great day. I wanted to stay over at your place, Mother, but I didn't want to disturb you in the morning so I came all the way home. Thank you so much. Good night! -Kyon"

It was as if she could still see the flowers that bloomed and stretched across the infinitely vast, dark sky. With every explosion of light that shot up into the air, her heartbeat pounded in unison, never missing a beat. She knew she would never forget the hypnotic fireworks of that dazzling day.


The girl spent most of the morning worried that the Chofu Fireworks event would be cancelled. The weather was unstable, with the sun selfishly hiding itself behind the clouds. However, by noon, she was relieved to see that the clouds gradually faded away from sight, revealing the sun for all to see. She received a text message from her host mother:

"The fireworks are going to be on schedule. We'll go with our original plan!"

The girl and her host mother met at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, and then they headed to Chofu, where they planned to meet her host father.

After getting off the Keio Line, the girl and her host mother arrived at the fountain by Chofu Station, their meeting spot. The fountain area was overflowing with people who were all pushing their way toward the event. Despite the commotion, they managed to find her host father at 6 p.m., just as they had planned.

The host father led the way through the underground passage to get to the other side of the train tracks. As they hopped into a taxi, the girl couldn't help but to admire her her host-father for his cleverness. He knew a longer route would get them to their destination faster than the route that would supposedly "only take 20 minutes by foot." On the way, she caught glimpses of other Japanese festival lovers walking outside of the taxi.

On a normal day, the route would have only taken seven minutes by car, but the streets were so jammed that not even Father could have predicted the extent of the traffic. Throughout the 30-minute ride, the driver repeatedly mumbled, "Gosh...," gawking at the overwhelming scene.

The Chofu fireworks took place along Tama River, which winds throughout the Tama region.

Around the same time of year in 1955, over 300,000 people admired the fireworks display by that same river. The vibrant colors worn by geisha dancers, and the bright lights from the traditional Japanese restaurants added to the ambiance of the festival.

Around that time, Father was still in elementary school. He told the girl that lush grass and rice fields used to fill the entire region of Chofu City. With a twinkle in his eye, he reminisced about how he used to be awed by the crowds of people on the paths between the rice fields and on along the riverbanks.

The tickets that Father bought for them were box seats called "sajiki." This area was divided into 10 blocks - eight sections in each block, and five or six seats in each section. With over 640 paid seats, and numerous free seats scattered about, there was an overwhelming number of people who wanted to see the main attraction: the fireworks.

The family grew excited as they waited for the fireworks to begin. Although it was a little humid from the morning rain, the evening mist from the river dampened the girl's cheeks, cooling her down.

Recounting the history of the Chofu Fireworks, the staff announced that the event started in 1933. In the past, the event had been cancelled because of war and for projects for urban development. Although beginning in 1933, this year's event only marked the 22nd anniversary.

Photos courtesy of Chofu City Fireworks Organizing Committee

"Ladies and gentlemen, we will now commence the 2003 Chofu Fireworks," a man announced. As soon as the words left his mouth, there was an explosive sound accompanied with blue, red, and green fireworks shaped as kiku and botan flowers shot up into the air. The fireworks that expanded in the dark sky looked so close that she almost thought they would fall right onto her head.

One by one, flowers that rose up into the sky disappeared and were replaced by more in a swift rotation. Fireworks named Wagiku, Nishikikamuro, Ginpachi, Yashi, Himawari, Hanarai and Star Mine, were launched into the air in succession.

Father, a perfect organizer, brought sake and snacks along, though once the fireworks started, they were left untouched.

The remainder of the show went by in the blink of an eye, and when she realized that an hour had already passed, the show was at its climax. As the fireworks continued, the girl suddenly noticed music playing throughout Chofu. The computer-run display called "Hanabi-illusion" lit up the sky. During the finale, 100 flowers of blue, red, green and yellow burst in the air one after another. Slowly, each flower fizzled away until patches of stars were the only thing left against the pitch-black sky.

The show felt so unreal to the girl that she almost thought it was all a dream. The show had given her shivers and deeply moved her.

Since organized fireworks events are not a part of Korean culture, she promised herself that one day she would like her parents to see such a beautiful array of illuminated flowers.


The girl thought about the text message she had just sent to her host mother, filling her with the same feeling she had while watching the Chofu fireworks. Once strangers, now friends, it was hard to remember her life before she met her host family. Respectable and reliable, the girl's host father in Japan was someone whom she shared many values with. Her host mother had become someone she could always emotionally depend on. She was so proud of her host parents, and had such deep respect for the two.

Although the girl had been in Japan for almost three years, she knew the Chofu fireworks would be one of her greatest experiences in Japan.

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