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!
More photos from the wonderful Yoshiwara Gionsai that took place a couple of weeks ago in the Shizuoka Prefecture Fuji City, two to three hours by local train from Tokyo. The main attraction of the two day festival is without a doubt the giant dashi that are being pulled up and down the main street. The dashi are home to musicians and dancers, and kids. Lots of kids! It is hard not to get good photos of something like this!
The dashi are built, maintained and financed by the local neighborhood communities, so people take a lot of pride into their communal festival platforms. Of course, if you belong to a community that can be organized to take of something like this, you can count on there being a lot of other perks and advantages!