Hanabi Taikai Guide – Fireworks in Japan

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Today we are going to talk about fireworks which in Japanese is called Hanabi [花火] and also about one of the most iconic festivals in Japan Hanabi Taikai [花火大会]. Ready to enjoy the fireworks in Japan?

In Japanese fireworks is written hanabi [花火] which literally means fire flower, similar to the English fireworks which means working with fires. It can also be called Pyrotechnics which in Japanese is enka [煙火].

Fireworks in Japan

Pyrotechnics is the technique of playing with fireworks to entertain people. This technique evolved into what we know as fireworks. It is believed that everything arose in Asia, already in Prehistory, but the gunpowder fires came from China.

Originally fireworks were used to ward off evil spirits. Unlike the West, the Japanese do not use fireworks to celebrate the New Year. In Japan fireworks are famous during the summer, thanks to festivals and holidays.

Japanese fireworks come in all different sizes that break world records, in addition to making various designs and animations in the sky. Throughout the article we will see some models of Japanese fireworks.

A very interesting hanabi is the senkou hanabi a stick about 20 centimeters like an incense burner. With it you can watch the fireworks without any danger and in your own home. You can buy it at konbini.

There was a time in Japan when fireworks were banned. In 1648 the shogunate forbade fires except on the Sumida River. But in 1948, after a festival on the Sumida River, it was released throughout Japan, making it possible to hold fireworks festivals in Japan, the famous Hanabi Taikai.

Hanabi taikai guide - the fireworks in japan - senkou hanabi
senkou hanabi – Fire that even children can release

Hanabi Taikai – Fireworks Display Festivals

During the summer, the famous Hanabi Taikai [花火大会] or fireworks festivals, mainly in the months of July and August. The first festival was held in the year 1733. Festivals usually take place on beaches, rivers and attract large crowds.

At these festivals people often wear yukata (summer kimono) and sometimes bring things along for a picnic. In most of these places you will find numerous food stalls and typical summer things.

In these stalls, as usual, you can find typical festival things like food, masks, games like fishing for goldfish, target shooting and others. Some also visit the temple during the festival.

These festivals are huge and attract tourists from all over the world. In pretty much every anime you can come across characters going to this summer festival, which is traditionally a place for romantic couples to fall in love.

Exists several festivals of fireworks across the country, the numbers can exceed 1,000 and about a third are famous across the country. Among the most famous are Yokohama, Sumidagawa in Tokyo, Nagaoka, Miyajima, Lake Biwa and many others.

At the end of this article you will find several videos about Hanabi Taikai to complement your reading. The article will now do an in-depth research into the history of hanabi, other festivals and also types of Japanese fireworks.

Hanabi Taikai Guide - Fireworks in Japan

The History of Fireworks in Japan

Fireworks have played multiple roles throughout Japan's history. They were used for celebrations of mourning for the dead, as well as celebrations of life, scare away spirits, and entertainment for the populace.

It is unknown when, where and on what occasion fireworks were first used in Japan. One of the few pieces of information we have is found in the chronicles Kennai-ki of the Muromachi Period lord Manriokoji Tokifusa of May 5, 1447.

There it mentions that after a Buddhist service at Joka-in, “Tojin” held a fireworks display in the temple grounds. The fireworks are said to have been made by making a bamboo frame and using fire to create “light and sound” shapes.

Drawings such as water wheel, back and forth movements on a rope, falling meteor and many other arts were made. Manriokoji Tokifusa praised and rewarded them as "a rare art of fire".

Hanabi Taikai Guide - Fireworks in Japan

The fireworks are believed to have been brought from another continent after Ashikaga Yoshimitsu's trade was liberalized along with the gunpowder weapons. Soon after they began to be manufactured in Japan.

There are also many records of fireworks made by foreigners, such as Christian missionaries. There are records that date fireworks used by Christians in Japan to April 14, 1582 Usuki, Oita Prefecture.

There is a theory that in 1585, in Tochigi City, Minakawayama Jōshō and the Satekishu set off fireworks as a truce in the war. There is another theory that fireworks were made at Azuchi Castle, but it was probably bamboo burning.

There are records of “observation of fireworks” from the Warring States period to the beginning of the Edo period, such as a record that Date Masamune observed fireworks displayed by “Datarajin” at Yonezawa Castle on August 17, 1589.

Another record that Tokugawa Ieyasu in August 1613 tells of a fireworks display by a Ming merchant who accompanied him when he had an audience with the British ambassador John Salis at Sunpu Castle.

Hanabi Taikai Guide - Fireworks in Japan

Tezutsu Hanabi – Traditional Bamboo Fireworks

Tezutsu Hanabi [手筒花火] refers to traditional fireworks released by hand holding a kind of bamboo cannon. This tradition takes place mainly in Toyohashi City since 1560, in addition to other performances made around the world.

The cannons themselves are made from a large hollow piece of bamboo nearly three feet long, and wrapped tightly around the outside with a rope. The tubes are then hand-packed with several kilos of black powder by the performers themselves.

In fact, everything from cutting the bamboo to weaving the ropes is traditionally done by the artists themselves. As if the fireworks' craftsmanship wasn't impressive enough, the performers then grab them with two hands, set a match and hold them aloft while showering them with hot sparks for 30 seconds or more.

The cannons are believed to have originated in an ancient type of signal beacon similar to those used on the Great Wall of China. Ancient records write of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu observing such fireworks at Edo Castle.

Although gunpowder was strictly prohibited at this time, peasants could use it to light fireworks at Shinto shrines. The Tezutsu Hanabi are still linked to Shinto festivals today, especially the Yoshida Shrine in Toyohashi.

Tezutsu Hanabi festivals can be seen throughout eastern Aichi, as well as western Shizuoka and parts of Gifu. Festivals also take place in the summer in the same way as the Hanabi Taikai.

Tezutsu hanabi - traditional bamboo fires
Tezutsu Hanabi – Traditional Bamboo Fireworks

Tsunamibi – Fireworks with puppets

Tsunamibi [綱火] is a fireworks display that combines puppet dolls and fireworks, manipulated with strings stretched in the air, flying dolls and music. The festival is held every year on the 24th of August at the Atago Shrine.

The origin of this Tsunamibi is unknown, but it is said that a black spider and a red spider were seen making a web in the air on the festival day at Atago shrine in the Keicho era. Generally the presentation has traditional similarities to this.

The tsunamibi style started by attaching torches and lanterns to the puppets and, after the introduction of gunpowder, they researched the technique of making fireworks, attached them to the puppets and dedicated them to a shrine to pray for the safety of the village.

This type of firework is also called “Sanbonza Karakuri Hanabi“. The “Lord of Obari Castle, Ishimi Mamoru Matsushita” is said to have invented this ceremony at the end of the Warring States Period to celebrate victory in the war and also to pray for the fireworm.

Tsunamibi - fireworks with puppets
Tsunamibi – Fireworks with puppets

Hanabi no Hi – Fireworks Day in Japan

In Japan, the hanabi no hi [花火の日] or fireworks day. Fireworks Day was established on August 1, 1967 to commemorate the lifting of the fireworks ban on August 1, 1948.

The festival also commemorates August 1, 1955, the day of the massive explosion of fireworks on the Bridge. Umabayashi in Tokyo, as well as August 1, the day of the world's biggest Oyasama Festival, the PL Fireworks Art Festival.

They also say that the 28th of May is the hanabi no hi because of the famous Ryogoku River Festival. In 1733 on this day, Japan's first fireworks were set off at the opening of the Rio Grande Ryogoku [両国大川] to comfort the souls of victims of famine and cholera the previous year and drive out evil spirits.

Chichibu Ryuse Hanabi – Ryusei Matsuri

For hundreds of years since the Tensho Era, local farmers have launched giant fireworks that look like rockets as part of an annual Shinto festival in Chichibu City. This kind of firework can be seen in the scene of the anime Ano Hana.

the fireworks Chichibu Ryuse Hanabi [秩父龍勢花火] are incredible 20m long, weigh up to 50kg, shoot from 300 to 500m high. About 30 rockets are launched during this festival day.

Each year, the festival takes place on the second Sunday in October, and rockets are launched all day at 15-minute intervals. There is a break of about an hour from 11am so that a ceremony can be held at the Miku Shrine, which is about 300 meters from the launch site itself.

The festival's name (Ryusei Matsuri) means "dragon power" - and the rockets are said to look like a dragon soaring into the sky. Locals are uncertain about the origin of this tradition passed down from generation to generation, including the distinctive techniques of making these fires.

Residents carry the fireworks from 20 meters on their backs to a launch pad, each rocket is announced, prayers are said, when it reaches the required height the rockets explode causing the beauty of fireworks in the blue sky.

Hanabi Taikai Guide - Fireworks in Japan
Ryusei Matsuri and rocket from the AnoHana anime

Senko Hanabi – Sparkler Fires

senko hanabi [線香花火] are traditional Japanese incense-like fireworks. Their origins date back to 1927, in the West they can be found by the name of sparklers. Of course, there are differences between the traditional Japanese and the one sold in the West.

In Japan the fire is on a thin shaft of twisted tissue paper about 20 centimeters long, the end of which contains grains of black powder. The black powder composition consists of three basic chemicals: potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal.

This type of fire releases delicate sparks with a range of up to 20 centimeters. They are lit away from the wind and held with a steady hand so that the delicate melted head does not fall off. Senko hanabi are included in fireworks packs and are ignited last among other hanabi.

Rumor has it senko hanabi somehow hypnotizes the silent observer and evokes the unconscious mono, describes a flash of sadness felt when reminded of the beauty and brevity of life.

Hanabi Taikai Guide - Fireworks in Japan
Senko Hanabi – Fire Sparklers Hand

Videos about Hanabi Taikai in Japan

Finally, let's leave some videos showing a little bit of this beautiful festival:

Video from Japan through other eyes! 

Stalls and Festival! 

The Fires! 

Japan's Top Hanabi Taikai

Unfortunately we cannot name all the fireworks festivals that take place in japanese summer, since their dates can change every year and there are hundreds that are usually celebrated in every city in the country.

For this reason we are going to list the most popular fireworks festivals in Japan. Remember those different festivals we mentioned throughout the article? Like that, but let's talk about the traditional Hanabi Taikai.

Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai

The Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival (隅田川花火大会) is an annual festival held on the last Saturday in July, over either the Sumida River or Sumidagawa River near Asakusa.

Sumidagawa's Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai follows the Japanese tradition of being a competition between rival pyrotechnic groups. It is a revival of the celebrations held in the Edo period, and annually attracts around one million celebrants.

Hanabi Taikai Guide - Fireworks in Japan
Hanabi Taikai Guide – Fireworks in Japan

Nagaoka Hanabi Taikai

In terms of firepower, the Nagaoka Taikai of Nagaoka City in Niigata Prefecture is perhaps the largest in Japan. Massive shells are used to fill a huge section of the night sky that is 2 kilometers long.

Jingu Gaien Hanabi

This one sets itself apart from all other Hanabi Taikai held in Japan. While almost all Hanabi Taikai are free, this one costs a whopping 40,000 yen. That's because next to the fireworks show, there is usually a J-Pop music show or other famous ones.

Other Popular Hanabi Taikai

If you are in Tokyo, other similar famous events are the Tokyo Bay Hanabi and Yokohama Hanabi Taikai held in the futuristic port area of Odaiba and Minato Mirai. Below is a list of popular festivals:

  • Nagaoka Hanabi
  • Miyajima Fireworks Festival
  • Omagari National Fireworks Competition
  • Chichibu Night Festival
  • Edogawa Hanabi
  • Tamagawa Hanabi
  • Kamakura Hanabi
  • Uji Hanabi
  • Itabashi Hanabi
  • Ichikawa Hanabi
  • Katsushika Noryo Hanabi
  • Chofu Hanabi
  • Gion Kashiwazaki Hanabi
  • Tenjin Matsuri
  • Atami Hanabi
  • Wakakusa Yamayaki

Hanabi – Card Game

Hanabi – the Japanese word for “fireworks” is also a cooperative card game in which players try to present the perfect fireworks display by placing the cards on the table in the correct order.

Sounds easy, right? Well, not so much, because in this game you hold your cards so that they are only visible to other players. That's right, you can't see your own cards!

You should work as a team, hinting at each other's card values or colors to create a dazzling fireworks display before your cards run out. You can buy the game below:

In addition to the Card Game, we also recommend the Movie “Hana-Bi: Fireworks”, Takeshi Kitano's masterpiece that was acclaimed with numerous international awards, including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Hanabi Hyuga - Character from Naruto

Something frustrating maybe is someone looking for Hanabi looking for the fireworks and coming across a Naruto character which is on the rise in Google searches. His name is spelled with katakana [日向ハナビ] but it sure references fireworks.

She is the younger daughter of the Hiashi Hyuga clan head and younger sister of Hinata Hyuga, and cousin of Neji Hyuga. Hanabi is considered more powerful and confident than Hinata, Hiashi decided to focus his harsh training regimen on Hanabi rather than Hinata.

Hanabi has dark brown hair with bangs and white eyes. Overall, Hanabi bears a strong resemblance to her cousin Neji Hyuga. She was seen wearing a blue armless V-neck shirt and blue shorts. 

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