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Nagaoka Fireworks Festival (長岡まつり大花火大会)
Nagaoka Hanabi Matsuri, also known as the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival is an annual event that brings in at least one million people each year. Why you ask? Because this summer festival is considered to be one of the top three fireworks festivals in Japan!
Over the two days of this festival over 20,000 fireworks are shot into the warm summer air and burst like a tapestry of colorful stars over the mid-evening sky.
Already tempted to see the amazing Nagaoka fireworks? This post will give you all the details you need including how to get there, the best places to sit for free, and how to navigate the crazy traffic due to the popularity of this festival.
Author’s Note: Nagaoka Hanabi Matsuri has been canceled for 2020. But since this festival happens annually you can still use this information to plan for future travel!
How to Get to Nagaoka
Nagaoka is located in the Niigata Prefecture of Japan near the Sea of Japan roughly 3 hours from Tokyo by train. You can get to Nagaoka by car or by public transportation. However, there are pros and cons to each of these options when traveling to Nagaoka for this festival.
If we attended Nagaoka Hanabi Matsuri again I would consider renting a car, especially if my hotel wasn’t in Nagaoka (we had to stay at a nearby city because every place was booked a year in advance!). But if I did have a hotel in the area, I might consider taking the train into the city.
If you are traveling by car, you’ll take the Kanetsu Expressway at the Nagaoka Interchange to get to Nagaoka City. From what I’ve read, parking is limited and all spots are paid parking only. It can also be a real doozy to get in and out of the city because of the festival traffic.
If you are traveling by train, you’ll take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Nagaoka Station. Once you depart the station you’ll walk about 20 minutes towards the Oteo Bridge where the fireworks display happens in the evening.
Again, this is a very popular festival so if you are unable to find a hotel nearby then you might want to consider heading back to the station before the end of the fireworks to ensure you can get on the train. Trust me when I say, I’ve never seen anything more bonkers than this.
Where to Stay in Nagaoka
Nagaoka is a pretty small city in comparison to other popular areas in Japan, thus there are fewer hotel options. Many of the hotels are also booked by tour companies a year in advance so you might have to go through one of them in order to get a hotel. Usually this also includes paid seats for the fireworks as well.
Regardless, you’ll need to book a hotel FAR in advance. I’m talking at a MINIMUM of eight months out. Probably a year out if you can. We looked a year out and saw that there was no availability and figured that it was due to it being so far away, checked again at 8 months, the same thing. At 6 months out, I thought something was weird so I did some research… yep. The whole city and neighboring towns and cities were booked.
So basically, if you can find a room, and I mean any room in Nagaoka, I’d snag it. If you can’t then search the surrounding areas. We ended up staying at a hostel near the Yuzawa Kogen Ski Resort in Echigoyuzawa which is about 30 minutes away by shinkansen.
I also recommend looking at Airbnb for this festival but when booking an Airbnb make sure they have an official government license number and check reviews as well!
The History Behind Nagaoka Fireworks Festival
Nagaoka Hanabi Matsuri started in 1946 as an event to commemorate those who lost their lives due to an air raid bombing in Nagaoka during World War 2. Not only did 1,500 or more people die, but nearly the entire city was also demolished as well. This event gives thanks to those who worked to rebuild the city and as a symbol of unity and prayer of eternal peace.
Attending The Nagaoka Fireworks Festival
At Nagaoka Hanabi Matsuri, there are paid areas and free areas to view the fireworks. The paid areas run from ¥3,000 to ¥18,000 a ticket. Tickets are available on a first-come-first-serve basis and sold at convenience store ticket machines starting in May.
We chose to test our luck with the free spots and were pretty impressed with the view we had in section four. We suggest bringing a blanket or a tarp with stakes to lay down on the grassy hill located alongside the Shinano River. This will help you designate a spot to watch the fireworks from.
Once you get off the train in Niigata, head over to the Shinano River (you’ll most likely see a bunch of other people congregating in this area as well). Pick the spot of your choice facing the Oteo Bridge and lay your blanket down! We also brought a tote bag with snacks and a mini cooler with drinks.
Now here’s the wild thing about Japan, you can leave all your stuff there and I can guarantee with 99% certainty that it will be left untouched. Police officers are all over the area to help with traffic which is probably a deterrent for thieves but theft is not extremely common in Japan compared to many other countries.
While we were sitting on our tarp eating a snack we even saw the police officers going around to the tarps that had come undone or blown up and tack or tape them back down!
After you pick your spot you can then head back towards the train station to watch some of the day festivities such as dance competitions, bands performing, and of course, street food stalls and games.
Between 6:30-7pm make your way back to your seat because the fireworks begin around 7:20pm and last until 9:10 pm. These fireworks are, by far, the most impressive fireworks I’ve ever experienced. They are absolutely massive as they fill the sky with glittering light. Even though you are seated far away from where the action takes place, you can even feel slight warmth radiating off each burst and the sound vibrates in your chest.
The fireworks show is also emotionally moving. The way that they pair the music that plays through the speakers mixed with the beautiful bursts of colorful fireworks made me feel rather sentimental.
I especially felt this way during the portion of the show when “Jupiter” by Ayaka Hirahara played over the speakers as it perfectly lined up with the fireworks (yes I “Shazamed” this song immediately because it was so powerful!).
This song was written for Niigata’s Chuetsu area after it suffered a devastating earthquake in 2007. I didn’t know this at the time, but was told after I attended the festival and it helped me understand why I may have felt so emotional without even truly knowing the context at the time.
After the fireworks show is over be prepared for a mass exodus! If you didn’t have luck finding a hotel in Niigata, then you’re probably going to have to run. Of all the festivals we visited, this one was the craziest to depart from.
In fact, right before the end of the fireworks we packed up our things and started making our way to the train station while watching the rest of the show from a distance. But, regardless of the chaos that ensued after, it was WORTH IT!
Basic Information About the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival
Where: Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, Japan
When: August 1-3 (fireworks on August 2 & 3)
Times: Fireworks 7:20pm-9:10pm (August 2 & 3)
Would you like to attend the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival?