Art of the Kayakuya: Fireworks

by Koike

Every August, at 7:00 pm on the eve of the Yosakoi festival, people wearing traditional yukata and waving uchiwa fans crowd the  banks of Kagami-river and  line Tenjin-bridge. They leave their houses very early to try to find best place for watching. Best place for watching what? To see the fireworks display on a summer evening at Kagami-river! The air is filled with excitement and  smells of sweat. They wait impatiently for the display to begin. It’s 7:30 now. With an announcement, the fireworks begin. The fireworks are fired off with various colors and roaring sound. The spectators utter few cries every time the fireworks are launched. Some people are opening their umbrellas because of the ash which falls from the sky.

Have you ever seen the display at the river? Surely everybody likes fireworks. They give off fascinating colors with loud sounds. There are some for whom seeing the fireworks is not enough– hearing the sound and feeling the vibration are the very charm of fireworks. Few people, however, know much about the fireworks’ process and history.

It is said that first fireworks were produced in Japan after guns were introduced in the 16th century. With the decline of civil wars in the Edo period, Kayaku-ya (火薬屋), “pyrotechnicians” appeared. It is also said that people were banned from using fireworks at any places except Sumida-river by the shogunate in 1648 (the first year of Keian period) and we can see that fireworks were popular since those days. The oldest fireworks maker still exist now in Japan and are called  Syuke-pyrotechnicians (宗家花火鍵屋). The first pyrotechnicians made toy fireworks for sale. After the defeat of war, Japanese fireworks were exported to overseas. Now, however, the number of fireworks imported from China is increasing and export is dropping sharply. Moreover, many Japanese pyrotechnicians follow the traditional hereditary system and are small and medium-sized businesses which have local roots. As a result, few people take up the difficult trade.

How about in Kochi? The fireworks display in Kochi began in 1948 and now, it’s held as a opening of Yosakoi festival at riverside of Yanagihara-Kagamigawa (柳原鏡川), a  public square of green. It’s said that Sakamoto Ryoma loved Kagami-river and there is a book which the story was set in Kagami-river. Actually, before the fireworks display began at there, there were another proposed places, Urado Bay (浦戸湾) and Kochi new Bay (高知新港). The sightseeing section at City Hall had conferences to consider the safety of these places. They considered about that from view of regulation of traffic and route. In the end, Kagami-river became the place for the fireworks.

The fireworks are shot off from three places, the mountaintop and  halfway up Mt.Histu and also riverside of Kagami-river. Because the altitude of each place is different, the fireworks has a three-dimensional effect. It’s one of the biggest features of the festival. It’s said that the degree of difficulty of holding the fireworks display at Kagami-river is geographically very high, so we can see how highly skilled fireworks makers are. There is one more good point. It’s a sponsor. Anyone, not just businesses, but also ordinary people, can be a sponsor.

Now, what we have to remember is about  fireworks makers. They begin to make fireworks in winter because dry air is needed. Weather is very important.

Fireworks are actually very complicated and have different parts. There are the so-called Hoshi(星) which become fireworks’ petal, Raitsubu (雷粒); and Hue (笛) which make roaring sound. The display at Kagami river cannot be made without Niagara-the name of fireworks-and it’s a big attraction. Each year in Spring, the makers start thinking about fireworks display. They talk about the composition of the display and how to use new products because the spectators are not pleased with the same display year after year. After the consultation, they keep making fireworks in full-scale until rainy season. And also, they visit around Kagami-river with the sponsors and confirm the circumstance at there. Are there any changes to the launching site? Were new houses built around the river? These are very important considerations. Next, they have to file their applications for using gunpowder because the makers handle quite dangerous things and can be used only under strict control.

Summer is drawing near and almost all makers make final prepartions for the launching. Because of the consideration of the safety, they don’t do that at near the river, but at the fireworks factories. Through the process of making fireworks, from the beginning to the end, the makers feel the strain. Some fireworks makers say, “ I feel the strain so much all the time which makes me have stomachache. But, after the fireworks display, I feel relief such as I’m unable to stand up.” Summer is physically and mentally hard for the fireworks makers.

At 9 o’clock, the display finishes and people try to leave there, pushing their way through the crowd slowly. People walk giving their impressions of the display to each other. People sweat again because of the crowd and the wonderful time is over in a flash. We can see the full fireworks display in about only a hour and half. However, the fireworks are made with great effort by fireworks makers and it takes a lot of time, over half year.  They create a beautiful time and put their hopes on the display even if it’s only for a short while. Next time you go to the display, you must feel how beautiful fireworks is!

2 thoughts on “Art of the Kayakuya: Fireworks

  • 2011/08/08 at 4:46 pm
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    I didn’t know about fireworks makers. And I was not interested in fireworks makers. I was very surprised to take over half year to make fireworks. In a moment, we finish playing or seeing fireworks. I can’t describe the heartrending impulses I felt. I have never seen fireworks festival on the eve of the Yosakoi festival. But I’m going to go this festival because I read this article, I want to see the fireworks display on a summer evening at Kagami-river. Thank you.

  • 2011/08/08 at 5:06 pm
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    I want to watch fireworks after I read your article.
    I usually don’t care about fireworks makers while I watch fireworks, but now I knew how hard they work for it. I haven’t watched it in Kochi, so I’m looking forward to it.
    I’d like to thank them and you.

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