Why are so many fireworks festivals held in Japan every summer?

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Prof. Takanori Shintani

Updated on Aug 18 2015

Q.In Italy, we enjoy fireworks displays only once a year as a New Year’s Eve event. Why are so many fireworks festivals held in Japan every summer?

A.Japanese originally set off fireworks to mourn the dead

 Fireworks displays in Japan date back to the Edo period (1603-1867). To be precise, the first event of this kind is said to have taken place in 1733, or the 18th year of the Kyoho era, on the Sumida River in Edo, now Tokyo, as a “suijinsai” or “water god festival.” At that time, a large number of people in both the Kansai region and Edo died of famine or plagues. The suijinsai event was held to comfort the spirits of the deceased and pray that those remaining would avoid getting the plague, with the country’s first launch of fireworks on record. Then, a number of pyrotechnic craftsmen appeared and competed to the extent that their fireworks displays were so brilliant and magnificent that the viewing audience began shouting out the family names of their favorite fireworks artists, such as “Tamaya” and “Kagiya,” among others. As a result, fireworks displays became an annual event in Edo and other parts of Japan as “kawabiraki” (river opening) festivals. In addition, fireworks festivals quickly become a fixture in Japanese society due to Japan’s hot and humid summer climate as they became people’s favorite summer pastime to cool off while admiring the fantasy of lights. Today, a huge number of people in Japan look forward to fireworks festivals every summer as a key seasonal tradition across the country.




published in The Japan News on 18/8/2015


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