The heat and humidity of Japan
are nearly unbearable during the months of August
. Without an air conditioner
in my bedroom, I wake up every morning under a layer of sweat. The afternoon sun above Tokyo melts me, but it only takes the cool air of the evening to put me back together again.
Tonight, the weeks of exams have ended and term papers have been handed in. A tall glass of beer and a few slices of chilled watermelon are had, while watching the setting sun from the window of a friend's apartment. The sounds of a small local festival gradually die down as we talk about summer plans and sip our drinks. Then the cracks and whistles of little fireworks start to echo through the neighbourhood, and we get up and walk to the store to buy our own.
I am the only smoker of the group, and with two lighters in my pocket we walk to the Familymart to buy a package of fireworks. We find a small park away from too many houses, set down our drinks on a dusty bench, and unwrap the sparklers and fountains. Soon we are enveloped in a cloud of smoke, illuminated red, green, and orange by the little sticks that each of us hold. No rockets, and no noisy fireworks are in the package; we just stand in the glow of our quiet simple hanabi.
When the more dazzling, and colorful ones have burned out we huddle together and pass around the senko hanabi. The long, thin twists of paper are lit one by one, and we crouch in the park watching wisps of orange dance from the ends. Little glowing globes of orange form on the ends of the senko hanabi, and they jiggle and shake as though they are jelly. We all hold our breaths, and silence our movements to try and keep the globes growing larger. The infrequent wisps become trees of sparks as the fireworks burn on. The sound is like a muted hi-hat cymbal. And then a globe drops and one person's sparks end. Then another. The lucky ones get to see the little ball of orange at the end of their senko hanabi, glow and shake, and eventually fizzle out. Then we each take another, this time trying to keep the sparks going longer by shielding them from the breeze, and holding our breaths tighter. When the little orange ball falls off prematurely, it leaves a feeling of incompleteness that can only be erased by lighting another, and watching it burn out with the last of the black powder.
When we finish the last of the senko hanabi, we stand up and gather the burnt out fireworks into a bag to throw out. A cloud of smoke comes from a group of teenaged girls, giggling, waving the fire around themselves. Another group sits silent, huddled in a circle glowing orange, watching their senko hanabi.