Fireworks has a strong feeling of summer for Japanese unlike in other countries; for example, fireworks to Americans are for Fourth of July and to Europeans for New Year’s Eve. For Japanese, it means yukata, summer festivals with food stalls and major summer events.
The feeling of summer from fireworks comes from history. Official record of the first one is from 1613 when it was presented to the shogun of the time, Ieyasu Tokugawa (note: shogun is a warrior given military authorityon behalf of the emperor), by the British. Since, it became customary for shoguns, nobles, and high ranking samurais to have fireworks by the Sumidagawa, a river which ran through the city of Edo. Fireworks were viewed from boats.
Although fireworks were only for the wealthy, commoners became accustomed to it, eventually becoming a big event of the summer. In 1733, firework event Ryogoku-no-Kawabiraki was held. It was not just for entertainment but to pacify the many deceased who died of starvation the year before. To this day, fireworks of Sumidagawa is enjoyed by the people of Tokyo as one of the largest fireworks event in the area.
When watching them, people may call out “Tamaya” and “Kagiya”. This is a habit also from the Edo Period (1603~1867). Both were names given to call each of the skilled fireworks craftsman’s workshop. Tamaya was in charge of fireworks downstream and Kagiya upstream. People called out each names as fireworks lit the sky.
Culture of fireworks bloomed in the peaceful times of the Edo Era. Because there were no wars, commoners truly enjoyed the seasonality of fireworks, and craftsmen were able to concentrate on refining their technique throughout the year. This is the reason why Japanese is so fond of them during the summer time.