Fireworks in Japan
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Fireworks in Japan

By ELIZABETH GIBSON for The J-Pop Exchange

America may pride itself on its spectacular fireworks displays, especially around this time of year, but Japan just may take the cake.

People all around Japan congregate in small family gatherings to huge festivals to see the fireworks, which are held nearly every day in the summer months — sometimes even multiple times per day. To the Japanese people, summer is basically equated with fireworks displays.

Street vendors set up shop to sell various drinks and food — such as Yakisoba, Okonomiyaki, Takoyaki, kakigori (shaved ice) — and to hold traditionally held festival games, such as Kingyo-sukui, or Goldfish scooping. Families usually dress in traditional Japanese summer-wear and sit down in a picnic-like style.

The Making Of

Japanese firework manufacturers and artisans do most of the work by hand very, very carefully. This is due to safety reasons, but also to ensure that each firework is of high quality. In contrast to American firework displays, Japanese firework manufacturers believe that (much like viewing cherry blossom trees at their respective festivals) fireworks should be able to be viewed from all angles. First, the firework artisans compose explosives by measuring and mixing powders. That composed concoction then gets made into what they call “stars,” or granulated pellets. Then the stars get dried out in the sun, and depending on the size needed for certain fireworks, the process may be repeated.

After they’re good and dry, they are carefully placed by layers into a paper shell with a fuse. This process is so meticulous, it resembles putting together a birthday cake. Then, after all of the stars are inside, that package is taped up with layers and layers of craft tape and the outside is painted and labeled.

Some of the more impressive displays can sometimes use as many as 40,000 shells over the period of just one hour, ultimately using between 100,000 and 120,000 rounds throughout the duration of the show.


Some reports say the first fireworks display happened as early as the late 1600s. The first Japanese fireworks festival, however, was reportedly held in 1733, held at the order of the eighth Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune. That festival was called Ryƍgoku Kawabiraki, although now its name has been changed to the Sumida River Fireworks Festival.

The display had become an established tradition by 1810, and rivalries began to emerge over control of each year's festival. As remains tradition today, the show comprises two major pyrotechnic rivals “competing” to impress the onlookers. Each guild would do a series of firework techniques to gain support and cheers from the audience. It has become a Japanese tradition for the spectators to yell “Tamaya” while watching fireworks.

To this day, fireworks dotting the summer night sky embodies the spirit of Japan.


Japan Times — Explosions in the Sky: Fireworks Lie in the Heart of Summer in Japan
Japan.Go — The Spirit of a Distinguished Traditional Fireworks Maker Lives On

More by Elizabeth Gibson:

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