Japan's Enduring Fireworks Tradition Lives On
August 6, 1999
A midsummer extravaganza along the Sumida River. (Taito City Office)
No summer in Japan would be complete without fireworks. Japanese hanabi (fireworks), which many argue are the world's most gorgeous and elaborate, are famous for their perfect roundness and harmoniously blended, multicolored layers that blossom out into the night sky. Each year in July and August fireworks festivals are held throughout Japan. This summer some 122 are scheduled for the greater Tokyo region alone.
A Long History
At festivals around Japan spectators can often be heard calling out "Tamaya!" "Kagiya!" These cheers refer to the names of the two families that became the biggest hanabi producers during the Edo period and catapulted the Ryogoku River Festival into the nation's biggest display of fireworks. At the first festival in 1733 the Tamaya family set off some 20 rockets that created a sensation. In 1810 the Kagiya clan branched off from the Tamaya, resulting in an annual battle for hanabi supremacy that became a favorite event for the Edo public. From the Taisho (1912-26) through the Showa (1926-89) eras, well-known firework makers began surfacing throughout Japan and, as hanabi-making techniques improved, the country's fireworks gradually acquired their own unique flavor.
Many spectators wear traditional garments like yukata (summer kimono) and happi (festival outerwear) to the event, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of the Edo period. The display, which last year attracted some 800,000 spectators, is immensely popular, so staking out a good viewing spot can be a challenge. The festival is also broadcast live on television every year.
Among the many other summer firework events are the Chiba City Fireworks Festival, which features a computer-controlled extravaganza synchronized to music, and the Tokyo Hanabi Festival and Yokohama's International Fireworks Festival, where the rockets are launched from the sea. Scores of magazine guides to these events line the shelves of bookstores during the hanabi season, ensuring an explosive summer for all.
Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.