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Fantastic fireworks: The biggest and best displays

Photos logoPhotos 5/07/2016

Fireworks in Japan were traditionally meant to ward off evil spirits. Hundreds of spectacular firework shows, also known as "hanabi," are held across the country every year, a majority of which take place during the summer holidays and draw spectators from around the world. Japanese fireworks are characterised by their circular shape — thousands of sparks radiate outward, creating mesmerising colorful shapes in the sky. The technique of making spherical fireworks is said to have developed in the late 19th century; it is achieved by arranging gunpowder balls, called "stars," inside a sphere. Different gunpowder formula ensures wide variety of colored sparkles. The firework artisans also attempt complicated designs, including the shape of Saturn and the heart.

We round up some of the most magnificent displays in Japan as well as around the world.

Sumida River Fireworks Festival in Tokyo, Japan

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Successor to the Ryogoku Kawabiraki fireworks festival that began in 1733, the festival is a signature event held on the last Saturday of July since 1978. Crackers are launched from barges anchored along the Sumida River between Ryogoku and Asakusa, and the colorful explosions are best viewed from the riverfront parks. 

Nagaoka Fireworks Festival in Nagaoka, Japan

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Started as a war-damage reconstruction festival in 1946, the Nagaoka firework display is held along the Shinano riverbanks on Aug. 2 and Aug. 3. The highlight of the show is the use of large Sanjakudama shells that are 36 inches (90 centimeters) in diameter, and weigh around 660 pounds (300 kilograms) each. The show's finale features mesmerising display along nearly 1.24 miles (two kilometers) of the riverbank.

Omagari National Fireworks Competition in Daisen, Japan

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Held on the fourth Saturday of August on the dry bed of the Omono River, some of the best firecracker teams across the country are invited to this contest. A special feature of this competition is that the firework artists themselves launch the pyrotechnics, and the overall winner receives the Prime Minister Prize. The event has been held since August 1910, when fireworks were an attraction of the festival at the Suwa-jinja shrine.

Tsuchiura National Fireworks Competition in Tsuchiura, Japan

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This historic Japanese fireworks contest started in 1925 and the only show held during the fall season — first Saturday of October. Held along the Sakuragawa River, the competition sees pyrotechnic companies go about decorating the autumn night sky with a brilliant display of light and fire. The contest has three categories: starmine, 12-inch shells, and creative fireworks. The overall winner is awarded the Prime Minister Prize.

Tenjin Festival in Osaka, Japan

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This festival is celebrated at the Ōsaka Tenman-gū shrine on July 24 and July 25. The shrine is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, the patron god of learning and art. Apart from the colorful processions — both on land and on water, the festival also features dazzling firework displays along the Ogawa River. 

Miyajima Fireworks Festival in Miyajima Island, Japan

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Held in mid-August, this festival features water fireworks, which are crackers designed to explode in shallow water before displaying their semicircular sparkle bouquets in the air. The pyrotechnics are usually launched from boats near the island's northern shore. The best place to view the display is from the Itsukushima Shrine — capturing its iconic torii gate (pictured above) against the fireworks remains an attraction among photography enthusiasts.

Chichibu Night Festival in Chichibu, Japan

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Held on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3, the festival is one of the three main festivals in Japan. It offers a rare chance to enjoy fireworks during winters. Floats decorated with lanterns and wooden carvings are paraded through the streets, accompanied by beating drums and flute music, while dazzling fireworks illuminate the sky. 

Let's take a look at some other spectacular fireworks festivals around the world...

New Year’s Eve in Dubai, UAE 

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The cosmopolitan city of Dubai is a hot spot to ring in the new year. A breathtaking fireworks show at Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure, leads the festivities. It is followed by several other displays, including at the Burj Al Arab, Atlantis The Palm, Palm Islands, and The Dubai Mall. In 2014, the city created a world record — the largest firework display with 479,651 shells during a six-minute show.

Montreal International Fireworks Festival in Montreal, Canada

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The striking spectacle, held since 1985, invites top-tier pyrotechnic companies from around the world to present a 30-minute show at Quebec's La Ronde amusement park. The month-long annual event is held from July 1 to Aug. 1. Some of the prime locations to watch the incredible display put forth by competing countries are La Ronde, Terrasse sur l’Auberge, Jacques Cartier Bridge, Complexe Sky, and Clock Tower Beach.

Pohang International Fireworks Festival in Pohang, South Korea

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Usually held at the end of July, the festival takes place at Yeongildae Beach in Pohang, which is also known as the "City of Light and Fire." It features a fireworks competition, a fringe fireworks festival, street performances, and a range of hands-on activities, including a sand sculpture exhibition.

New Year’s Eve in Sydney, Australia

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Set against the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, an incredible fireworks show takes place every New Year’s Eve in this Australian city. Held in two segments — at 9 p.m. and midnight, one can revel in the glorious festivities by attending a rooftop party, aboard a yacht, or at a public viewing space. More than one million people assemble every year to soak in the celebration.

Diwali in India

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The popular Hindu festival of Diwali is also known as the "festival of lights," and signifies the victory of light over darkness. Celebrated in late October or early November, the festivities involve lighting of "diyas," or earthen lamps, and bursting crackers. Cities across the country come alive with beautiful display of colored lights and magnificent fireworks exhibition. 

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