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JAPAN GUIDE: OKAZAKI FIREWORKS

Between 7 and 9.30 pm on Saturday last weekend, 20,000 fireworks (Hana-bi, or flower-fire) were fired over Okazaki from two sites, one in front of the castle and one a little further away on Yahagi-gawa. Two sites are used so that the larger fireworks fired from Yahagi-gawa do not break the windows of buildings - some measure over 30 cm across, and could break windowpanes at a few hundred meters. The fireworks are also a fair indication of the local and national economy - the more there are, the better things are going.

The fireworks are the final night of a three-day festival, starting with Bon-odori (dancing), then with the Mikoshi on Friday, and finishing with fireworks on Saturday. The entire Obon festival is a celebration of the dead - the time when ancestors return home. A good celebration is crucial to getting them to go away again afterwards.

Okazaki is famous for fireworks, perhaps the most famous in Japan. Back in the 1600s, when the Tokugawa Shogunate was established, the stronghold of the family centered around the Mikawa region. Also a strategically important area because of its central location, the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu banned the production of gunpowder outside certain areas of Aichi, Gifu, Shizuoka and Niigata. This ensured that the family maintained a stranglehold on the production of gunpowder, and the technology required to do so.

Being a feudal society, the skills were passed on from father to son, so that the expertise, facilities and technology have remained largely in the area around Okazaki. Even today over 70 percent of Japanese fireworks are developed and produced here. The fireworks are usually new designs, and often are those used the following year throughout the rest of Japan - the show also has the flavour of a trade fair as buyers come to see the newest developments.

Gunpowder is of course a dangerous thing, so every now and then there are explosions. Given the expense of insuring a firework-producing company, many have only minimal cover. There is usually one or two explosions every few decades, so most companies are not more than 30 or 40 years old - if the factory blows up - its cheaper to start another company. And by contrast to many small businesses, nobody who owns a fireworks factory seems to want to live in an apartment over their place of work.

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Hattori Foundation (est.1919) - The Yamasa Institute
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