Shattered gems fall through the night sky. Strands of smoke, lit green and red and gold, drifting slowly on the wind. The smell of the beach, rising up with the heat still radiating from the sand. Miura Beach is thronged. Children race among the crowds, looking up with each pop. Men with their wives, sharing a can of Strong Zero. Suddenly, the smell of black powder fills the air, floating down from a ball of gold light exploding right above the beach. The boys look away for a moment from the beach girls, consecrated by the sun, who come here every single day, hiding bikini bellies under replica Gucci T-shirts. This is Miura Beach and these are fireworks.
Just far enough from Tokyo to feel like you’ve escaped the orbit of the megalopolis; just close enough to Tokyo that the trip out from Shinagawa Station to Miurakaigan Station on the Keikyu Line takes just about an hour (and plenty of folks make that commute twice a day, living out on the peninsula but working in the big city). The Miura Peninsula feels like it’s cut from the same cloth as the expansive sprawl of the Kanagawa suburbs, mostly dull, but with a few chill patches, echoes of Kanagawa’s Shonan, with its hamburger shops and surfers—Miura Beach is one of those patches, a stretch of sand that’s packed all week in the summer with suburban sun worshippers, and invaded by Tokyoites on the weekend (those that don’t end up at Zushi Beach, at least).
The hanabi shokunin and their apprentices have been at work for days, setting up thousands of charges, double-checking placement, preparing to light up the sky. The tekiya are ready, too, readying their propane burners, chopping cabbage... And then they come: a crowd tens of thousand strong, rolling up from towns along the coast, deeper in the central peninsula, or coming off the Keikyu Line from Tokyo.
Out on the peninsula, the Miura Beach Fireworks Festival each August is the biggest event of the year. It’s easy to see why, if you’ve ever been. These hanabi matsuri don’t just feel like summer—they are summer. This is a celebration, with cotton candy, yakisoba, fireworks, beers and laughs, of the essence of the season.
The hanabi matsuri is where the summer happens. This is where school kids on summer break make awkward eye contact with each other through the crowd, sizing each other up outside of their uniforms, maybe sidle up to each other, mumble through the stories of the summer… This is where the salaryman commuter spends his weekend, free from the orthopedic dress shoes and Cool Biz suit jacket of the work week, free to grind his toes in the sand, hold his daughter and his wife close, watch the summer explode in the inky black sky…
The Miura Beach Fireworks Festival is the most democratic of the hanabi matsuri within easy train travel distance of Tokyo. Unlike other festivals, there are no options to reserve a seat, and the beach is long enough that it’s easy to stake out a spot to get a good view. And whether you’ve got a good view or not, there’s plenty of fun, mixing with the crowd, people-watching, strolling the maze of hawkers and food stalls, losing (at least) a few hundred yen on the carnival games.
When the sun sets, the fireworks are launched, ripping up into the sky from barges and platforms in Kaneda Bay, thousands of charges, perfectly choreographed. The calm, glossy waters of the bay are a dark mirror, reflecting the light show crackling above them. This is summer. This is Miura.