Starting in late July, many gorgeous fireworks festivals (hanabi-taikai) take place all over Japan. Watching the local hanabi-taikai is almost compulsory if you are in Japan during summer. It is also the busiest season for pyrotechnicians or hanabi-shi, who formulate the firework and manage the actual ignition. Some hanabi-shi take part in the production of the festival by simulating the whole show with a software, including sound and other effects. Nowadays, producing a grand show has become less dangerous due to remote electric igniters. The exact timing to “ignite” the hanabi from different locations can be pre-programmed. The workload of hanabi-shi building up to the finale is so demanding, it is customary at the Omagari fireworks championship for the crowd to bring flashlights. When the show is over, the crowd would signal appreciation to the hanabi-shi by waving their flashlights.
While the western fireworks shell resembles a cylinder, the traditional Japanese hanabi shell is shaped like a globe. The hollow interior of the hemisphere-shaped shell is carefully lined with different types of colored explosive pellets in the exact order to create the elaborately designed “work” of fire. In this process, the hanabi-shi must be extremely careful with any kind of friction, shock or static electricity so as not to stimulate the explosives. When the inside of the shell is dried and sealed, it looks like a melon. One of the biggest characteristics of Japanese fireworks is its variation in coloring. It can stay up in the sky longer by slowly transforming its shape and hue. The color red consists of strontium carbonate, blue from copper oxide, green from barium nitrate, and so forth. By mixing these substances, options are endless.
Another type of fireworks is the traditional hand-held “tezutsu hanabi” which originated in Aichi prefecture. A hollowed bamboo measuring about one meter is filled with low explosive powder to shoot up into the night sky, until it burns out with a bursting sound. Some shoot up higher than ten meters. It is quite thrilling to see the performers holding on to the bamboo shell without wearing any protective gear.
National Fireworks Championship in Omagari August 25, 2018
Tezutsu Hanabi Performance “Hono no Saiten” September 8, 2018