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 assauly 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.
One of my favorite places in the beautiful Kakitagawa Park in Shizuoka Prefecture’s Mishima City is this gorgeous natural spring water river feature. Even though we had 39 degrees celsius in the air this day, the water, being exposed to the first light in over 10 years after traveling underground from the peak of Mount Fuji, was icy cold and wonderfully fresh. Naturally the tiny spot was crowded with families and kids taking the opportunity to cool down a little. I think Mishima City is blessed to have water like this. Delicious and free. A true gift from nature!
At the Kakitagawa Yuusui park in Shizuoka Prefecture’s Mishima City you can visit the tiny Kifune Shrine (貴船神社). It is a shrine dedicated to the God Takaoka-no-kami, who is the Inoame and Tomeame God, or the God who can start and stop rain at his will. The Shrine is a tributary of the much larger and more famous Kifunejinja in Kyoto far to the west. The shrine itself is located on the highest spot in the river and spring valley, on the spot of a castle which was first destroyed in the 1570s, rebuilt and finally destroyed again sometime in the 1610s. The lack of remains of any castle structures might mean that it was a wooden castle, more like a fort. The nature around the shrine is very beautiful, and there were plenty of insect, lizards, fish and birds around. I saw one semi sit quietly on the trunk of a tree. In summer the swarms of semi can be quite deafening, almost like a motorcycle constantly revving its engine!
I spent yesterday in Fuji City, in Shizuoka Prefecture which is two prefectures over west from Tokyo, visiting the lovely and colorful Yoshiwara Gionsai, famous for its many dashi (mobile festival platforms). The festival was as great as ever, despite the tiny bit of rain that fell at the end of the festival. You would be excused for not believing that we were actually in the middle of the rain period here in Japan, but so far there has not been very much of it.
The main attraction of the Yoshiwara Gion Festival is the main street in Yoshiwara Honcho, where the different dashi are pulled up and down the streets by the members of the neighborhood they represent. The dashi are manned by kids and adults who play the more or less traditional music of these festival. When I say more or less I mean that Shizuoka is famous for being slightly more innovative in the music and rhythm sections of their festivals and the kids have quite a bit of freedom in deciding how they are going to perform. Most opt for the traditional way but there are a few far away influences to some of teams drumming or dancing!