Boy lighting sparklers in the streets of our Japan neighborhood
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The Power of Fireworks

It’s always interesting returning home after a long trip. Everything is familiar, but everything seems different at the same time. While we were away from Japan, summer turned to fall. The kinmokusei has begun to bloom, filling the air with a light citrus scent. But Japan’s ability to surprise us never seems to change.

A few nights ago, we heard some activity in front of our apartment. It was already dark and the noise of kids playing was unusual. Viktoria poked her head out the window to see what was happening and spotted our neighbors from the next building.

The boy is one of our favorite kids in the neighborhood. He’s really respectful and always says hello when we see him. One day Viktoria gave him some candy she brought back from the U.S. A couple minutes later, he rang the doorbell, holding a bag of Japanese cookies—the obligatory reciprocal gift.

His mom is great too. The first time we really talked to her was when she rang our doorbell as a member of the neighborhood association. She had come to collect the annual dues (about $5 USD) and had taken the time to prepare a receipt in English along with a few phrases to help us understand what services are supported with the funds. A couple months later, she eased my fears about the announcement being belted out of a helicopter flying overhead (not an impending zombie apocalypse, just an advertisement).

Me and the neighbor kid... his mom probably has the picture where we're looking straight ahead!

Me and the neighbor kid… his mom probably has the picture where we’re looking straight ahead!

Anyway, when they saw Viktoria, they waved us downstairs. They had enough fireworks to outdo Washington D.C.’s Fourth of July show! We asked what the occasion was and they said it was a holiday, but despite all my research and even some crowdsourcing, I have no idea what they were celebrating.

Viktoria, one of the friends and our neighbor light yet another sparkler...

Viktoria, one of the friends and our neighbor light yet another sparkler…

A couple of his classmates and someone’s little brother were also there with their mothers. Our neighbor kid was the Master of Ceremonies for the evening, making sure everyone had a sparkler in hand at all times. I bet we each burned a dozen sparklers apiece.

They sang a little song all night that went “ha-na-bi no chi-ka-ra,” meaning something along the lines of “the power of fireworks,” but they sang it in a sweet voice that made it seem like a bit of an inside joke.

At the end of the night, they handed out some candy. Viktoria ran upstairs and grabbed some Halloween candy we’d just bought—you know, reciprocal! We went back upstairs with a “what just happened” feeling, but also happy to be included in what seemed to be an end-of-summer tradition.

Here’s a few more photos from the evening. Enjoy!

Two of the kids light up another round of sparklers

Two of the kids light up another round of sparklers


The little boy was probably four or five years old, but was lighting sparklers like a seasoned veteran.

The little boy was probably four or five years old, but was lighting sparklers like a seasoned veteran.


This kid wasn't sure what to think of us at first, but he warmed up after a bit.

This kid wasn’t sure what to think of us at first, but he warmed up after a bit.

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