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Chofu Hanabi, 2006

July 23rd, 2006

I always do it this way, figuring it out at the last minute. This time, I was washing dishes, and heard some loud pops, like fireworks. It was still light out, late afternoon, so I figured that maybe it was a local display, maybe something inconsequential. But it reminded me that I had not yet found out the fireworks schedule for the summer, and so I checked.

In the U.S., we have fireworks displays usually only at special times–the Fourth of July being the most notable. Sometimes at New Year’s, and at special events, maybe at some ballgames, and Disney does it a lot, I hear. But in Japan, it’s an all-summer thing. There are big displays, usually on the weekends, throughout July, August, and sometimes later months.

Near where I live, there’s an annual fireworks show by Chofu City, on the other side of the Tama River. The display is actually held on the river itself, and is one of the biggest local shows. And all too often, I forget to find out when it is, and miss half of it. This time, I didn’t expect it because it was so early–usually this show is later, and once it was in October even. But when I checked the schedule after hearing the booms, sure enough, this was it–and just 20 minutes from when I checked. So I made sure I had a clean flash memory card, packed up the tripod and the camera, and took off. This time, they blocked off the river street entirely, so I had to take back roads in, and got settled maybe five or ten minutes after the show started.

And got these shots. Enjoy.







Often they include smaller shaped shells, including hearts, stars, cats, mice, and as pictured here, smiley faces.





There always seem to be more trains than usual going by during the display–I think that in itself is considered an attraction, to be on the train while you ride by the show.


The people along the river nearby as we watch the show.

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  1. Brad
    July 26th, 2006 at 15:04 | #1

    My gosh, those are excellent photographs! So *clear*! Puts my efforts (granted, going back a decade or two) to shame.

    And I had *no idea* that fireworks could draw pictures! That smiley-face blew me away! I have never ever ever seen any such images before in any fireworks show (and that includes a couple in the USA). I learn something new every day.


    Okay, I’ve shown these photos to a couple of colleagues and they’ve marvelled at their clarity (as I said, I’ve never been able to produce photos so clear). But in particular we’re all amazed at the smiley-face; one of us had heard that ‘they were trying’ things like that, the other two had never heard of the notion before. One of my co-workers admitted that he was scared of the ‘fireworks monster’ :-)

    Okay, Luis – how do they do it? I’d naively assumed a separate gun/projectile for each element, but my colleagues made me realise that some parts would be drawn by a single shot – like the head, which is a circle and so would be done by one of your normal fireworks. But the (scary) red mouth *isn’t* a circle, it’s flat at the top. One firework, with the upper half somehow slowed down?

    And what would these look like from the side? Vastly distended and nothing like the front view, we expect?

    How long until the Japanese have a Godzilla up there in the sky?

    We hereby appoint you as our special investigator, and charge you with taking more photographs, from multiple angles, to further investigate this phenomenon. Thank you.

  2. Luis
    July 26th, 2006 at 17:11 | #2

    This page (with photos of most of the different shapes) is the best I could find, but I’m sure that the exact mechanics are a closely-held secret by the manufacturer. And yes, most are 2-dimensional, and look flat from the side.

    The sharpness is due to focus and steadiness of the camera; I use a tripod, and since your finger on the shutter causes the camera to shake (thus ruining the picture), I use a 2-second delay so I can remove my hand and allow the camera to settle before the image is taken. However, that means that you have to get really good at predicting when the charge will go off. A shutter speed of 1-4 seconds helps cover that and gives you a slight margin of error, but a lot of the photos I took were of black sky or little remnants.

    Another trcik is taking LOTS of photos. I think I took about 250 in an hour’s time. Later, you just pick and choose the best one out of 25.

    And finally, these images are reduced in size using Photoshop, where the Sharpen tool compensates for the resize blurring and (I’ll admit) enances the photo a bit.

    Do all of these things, and I guarantee you’ll get shots like these (maybe with just a little practice).

  3. Luis
    July 26th, 2006 at 20:33 | #3

    By the way, the whole shaped charge is insode one shell, shot off at the same time. The only thing I can guess is that the individual bits that form each fireball are put together in a geometrical form suspended in an inert holding material, so that when a central charge goes off to shot them outwards, they go off in predictable directions, at predictable speeds. Best I can do.

    And thanks for the compliments!

  4. trent
    November 27th, 2006 at 14:33 | #4

    nice pics!!!!!

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