Fireworks started being produced in Japan in the 16th century, soon after the introduction of gunpowder. Naturally they were used like we use them today, but it is said that in 1613, at a fireworks performance inside Edo Castle, the handheld fireworks had the Tokugawa shogun especially impressed and they spread in popularity from that point. Usually fireworks in Japan were made only by specially licensed masters but these handheld fireworks were made by hand by groups of young men who would together go out to gather bamboo, hollow them out into tubes and stuff them with gunpowder before taking them to the local shrine to show of their courage and skills. After lighting the tube, they start pouring a fountain of sparks that depending on the size of the fireworks can reach over ten meters in height. Between 10 and 60 seconds after the fountain of sparks (the roar) comes the bottom explosion, where the sparks fly out underneath to symbolize the wings of the beast, along with a loud bang and plenty of smoke.
These Tetzutsu Hanabi can be found here and there across Japan but are most common in the Mikawa-Enshu area (Aichi and Shizuoka prefectures) where there are several famous festivals featuring this tradition. I visited the summer festival in Shizuoka Prefecture’s Mishima City, at the Mishima Taisha grand shrine where a group of local young men fired hundreds of these hand held fireworks during a 30 minute inferno. The men will walk around a set perimeter holding tubes up. There are a few different sizes of tubes as well as color fireworks and they get progressively bigger as the performance advances.
Few festivals are such an assault on the senses as this one. The noise is spectacular, with explosions every few seconds, the constant roar of the tubes, the flashes of light and fountains of lighted sparks and smoke. But most lasting is the smell! I was lucky not to be standing in the direction of the wind and still my hair, my skin, my camera and my clothes were covered in a light film of greasy gunpowder residue. I don’t think I have ever smelled so bad in my life! Still it was absolutely worth seeing it.
Maybe the title is a little bit of an overstatement, but last year I happened to join in on what might just be the biggest kingyou sukui game in the world, at Rakujyu Park in Mishima City, Shizuoka prefecture. Kingyou Sukui, as you must have seen on my blog, is a game where you pay a small coin to be given the chance to “rescue” gold fish (and sometimes other animals or objects) from a shallow aquarium. Usually this is a festival game where you pay 300 yen to scoop fish into your bowl with nothing but a thin ladle made of paper! The best kids can win a handful or more of goldfish but some kids (like me) come home with nothing. At the Rakuju Park they had partitioned off part of a pond and a small river and released thousands of fish, rubber balls and rubber ducks. On a given signal dozens of kids (and quite a few enthusiastic parents) rushed out to scoop up as many as goldfish as possible. For the kids who weren’t that quick they could at least focus on the less slippery toys floating around. If I had seen this event and being 30 years younger I would have been right in the middle of everything!
A few of the kids preferred to splash around on their own in different ponds, more interested in playing in water rather than catching fish. Some seemed happy to just stand in the cold clear melting water!
Mishima City is famous, and rightly so, for their fantastic water. It comes straight from the slopes of Mount Fuji and is available for free at several public fountains throughout the park and the rest of the city. The water is so fantastically tasty that I think I would never drink anything else if I lived around here, all the water is perfectly safe as well, and even the ponds and streams running through the city are perfectly clear and absolutely gorgeous.
I saw these two wonderfully cute little wadaiko (taiko) drummers in Mishima in the middle of last month. They performed as a mixed group of local taiko groups and drummers from some towns in Miyagi prefecture that are trying to rebuild themselves. It was an excellent perfumers. I love how these two just look so professional before going on stage. I wish I could be this cool!
If you’ve followed this blog for a while you’ll know that one of my favorite areas of Japan is Shizuoka prefecture, and of course, the summer festivals the cities and villages in this lovely part of Japan has to offer! In August it’s Mishima’s turn to take center stage with their huge Mishima summer festival. I visited last year and took these photos. Mishima is mostly famous for having incredibly clean water, and although I have tried water that is said to be even better, the water I tasted in Mishima was by far the best I have ever tasted. If you’re in Shizuoka prefecture over the summer, this is a must visit!