The history of fireworks that illuminate Japan's skies
The magnificent fountain-style "tezutsu hand-held fireworks" are the origin of all fireworks
Skyrockets that bloom on a grand scale and capture in an instant the fascination of huge crowds of observers. A wide variety of skyrockets are showcased all over Japan throughout the year, and huge numbers of people look forward to the opportunity to marvel at the fireworks. The roots of these pyrotechnics lie in the Aichi Prefecture and Mikawa regions of the Sengoku period, and the tradition of "tezutsu hand-held fireworks" that has been handed down since then. They weren't originally developed in order to provide amusement as they do today, rather, they formed part of a solemn Shinto ritual that sought to ward off evil spirits and bring about rich harvests. And the style of these fireworks was truly primitive! They were quite unlike the great gunpowder balls fired high into the sky with a bang that we see at almost every fireworks festival these days. The pyrotechnicians would hold a great lit cylinder from which they released "fountain-style" fireworks that formed an intense pillar of fire raining down showers of sparks, which was quite a fantastical sight. Of course, the moment the sky was filled with sparks was one of mortal danger for the pyrotechnicians holding the fireworks. The tezutsu hand-held fireworks that are used today still subject the holder to such huge tension that they don't even notice the heat.
The fireworks shows of Lord Ieyasu, great proponent of firework development
Once the Sengoku period had given way to the Edo period, it is said that Lord Ieyasu Tokugawa was the first to enjoy fireworks as a show, at Sunpu Castle. Sunpu Castle records of the time note how gunpowder was inserted into bamboo cylinders and ignited in so-called "tachihanabi" which resembled the tezutsu hand-held fireworks. It is not difficult to imagine the great surprise and fascination that the inquisitive Lord Ieyasu must have felt. These fireworks shows staged by Lord Ieyasu formed the impetus for Mikawa, his place of birth, to become a major center for firework production and displays. Another part of the historical background is that the Mikawa region had been a key military gunpowder production area for some time, and after the end of the Sengoku period, when demand for gunpowder declined, the explosive was diverted to use in fireworks.
Which will be the hottest fireworks festivals this year? Feel the dynamic force close up
The birth of a diversity of fireworks made with outstanding craftsmanship
Before long, skyrockets had spread in popularity among feudal lords and Edo townspeople, and evolved into a summer leisure activity. For example, on the Sumida River, popular as a place of refuge from the heat. People came in droves clutching their fans and climbed aboard "suzumi-bune" pleasure boats to watch the fireworks while enjoying meals and sake. The well-known fireworks manufacturers, "Kagiya" and "Tamaya", were established around this time. The fireworks craftsmen strove to out-do each other with their creations, whose beauty drew cries of adulation "Kagiya!" and "Tamaya!" from the Edoites watching. But what were they really like, these fireworks of Edo replete with divine artisan skill? In truth, the fireworks of this period were still a reddish orange monochrome, and their brightness was limited. It was the Meiji period that saw a shift beyond this style. Oxidizing agents, chemiluminescent agents, and red and blue flame coloring agents (metal compounds) were imported, and the creation of a wide variety of lights, colors and sounds became possible. However, with this increase in types of raw materials, the risk of explosion rose equally, meaning that the fireworks craftsmen polished their skills amidst danger.
Innovations using sophisticated computerized control
Fireworks festivals have come to be held not just along the Tokaido, which includes Mikawa and Edo, but all around Japan. Even the styles have evolved, from the single skyrocket type to a variety of types, including, to mention a few, the "star mine" consisting of multiple fireworks set to shoot up at once, "submerged fireworks" that open up like a fan above water, and "Niagara", in which sparks pour down like a waterfall from dangling pipes filled with gunpowder and ignite simultaneously. Such creative skyrockets are made possible by technology that supplies electricity to the rockets and ignites them via computer. Sophisticated fireworks programs are made in advance based on various elements such as the sizes, colors, and locations of the fireworks. It makes it possible to control the ignition timing precisely, at will, by remote control, and makes it easy to launch rockets within delicate intervals or to ignite in places that are impossible to reach by hand. Fireworks performances timed to music, as is the recent trend, are also made possible by this ignition system. The new technology has allowed skyrockets an expanded range of expression, and the artistry is also well appreciated.
A variety of wonderful fireworks festivals captivate many people every year
Skyrockets can be seen in many events overseas, but the beauty and technique of Japanese fireworks are praised as world-class. One contributor to this status is contests in which fireworks craftsmen pit their skills against each other. Owing not only to the passing down of skills, but also friendly competition, Japanese fireworks are flourishing. Japan is getting a lot of attention from overseas as one of the world's major countries for fireworks. Recently, skyrockets have appeared in traditional festivals as well. The way those skyrockets add color to the finale, as though celebrating the traditions of Japan, touches people's hearts. Now, which fireworks festivals do you want to go to this year? The powerful explosions that shake your body, such glitter as you have never seen before in your life. Excitement such that you cannot take your eyes away, thrill that you can only experience at the grounds of the fireworks event. Technology and passion bloom in the sky! Enjoy these moments to your heart's content.