While we were staying at Wakura Onsen on August 2nd, 2018, the Wakura Onsen Summer Fireworks were held.
These fireworks also illustrated the “premier omotenashi” spirit of Wakura. This festival was originally started with the intention of creating something that guests of their ryokan could enjoy watching from the windows of their rooms.This firework display was so grandiose and extreme at one point that sparks would burn holes in clothes, and windows would be broken by the strong winds from the fireworks. Even on the mountainside, the sound of the fireworks would reverberate off of the mountains and break nearby windows.
Obviously they aren’t so extreme that they would break windows nowadays, but as I watched the fireworks from the bay, it was the first time in a long time when the fireworks were so large they couldn’t fit into our field of vision. It is extremely rare to see fireworks at such a close proximity. To top it all off, even though we suddenly decided to come just 30 minutes before the festival, there was so much open space it seemed as if we were getting VIP seats.
After the fireworks have risen in the sky, it feels as if you are viewing them at point blank range. If you watch the fireworks spread out in the sky right above you for long enough, your neck will start to hurt. Many of the people who come to see the fireworks can be seen laying on the ground. You would never be able to do that in a large city. Isn’t it amazing that there is such a large space for you to spread out and enjoy the fireworks?
And then, there was the finale. An enormous firework goes off in the sky and small paper-like fragments float down from the heavens. If you pick them up, you can still notice the faint smell of gunpowder lingering.
Now that we have wrapped up the story of the Wakura fireworks, the story of the Wakura Onsen is coming to an end. However, this guide would not exist if it were not for Shoichi Tagawa and his book, “A History of Wakura Onsen”. There were many unique and interesting explanations we referenced from his book.
Let us take a moment to go back--1200 years before Wakura Onsen existed--to the Daidō Era (806-810), though this time period has only been called this since the Meiji Era. Before this period it was known that hot springs bubbled up in the ocean, but it wasn’t known when. Though this is not to say that Tagawa denies the “Daidō theory”, he points out that scholars in the Meiji Era had probably just written a synopsis.
No matter the location, , most onsen were formally opened by a famous monk, such as Gyōki or Kūkai. However, this does not appear to be the case for Wakura Onsen. The Meiji Era scholars thoroughly investigated the history and decided that it was Kūkai who would have opened Wakura Onsen (Kūkai came back from Tang Dynasty China in 806). However, the scholars were hesitant to say that Kūkai opened Wakura Onsen. And so, they hinted at this instead by saying that it was opened in the Daidō Era.
At that time, it seemed as though everything matched up on the timeline. However, there was one hinderance. In the year 748, the famous waka poet, Ōtomo no Yakamochi, traveled past Wakura by boat and wrote a poem about the scene he saw. However, his poem doesn’t reference the onsen even once. The Daidō Era was a mere 60 years after this visit which conflicted with the scholars theory. It would be unnatural for an onsen to suddenly bubble up in such a short period of time. So just to be safe, scholars proclaimed that the hot spring at Yu-no-Tani burst out during the Daidō Era only to then sink back into the sea.
History itself is a complete mystery to us. While bathing in the Wakura Onsen, try to imagine for yourself where and when this onsen first came about. Maybe you will be the one to uncover the mystery of Wakura Onsen.
ON THE TRIP Editorial Staff
English Translation：Autumn Smith
Vocals: Kate Beck
※This guide was created based on documents and interviews and includes some interpretation done by us at ON THE TRIP. Theories differ between experts, so try to find out what really happened on your travels!