August 10, 2013

0788 & 0789 JAPAN (Kantō) - Sumida River Fireworks Festival

The first mention of a firework dates back to 7th century China, from where this custom has spread to other cultures. It seems that in Japan they reached in 17th century, and became popular due to the lords who resided in Edo, today’s Tokyo. In 1733, the eighth shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, organized the first such festival, Water God Festival, on the Sumida River, launching fireworks to honor the souls of the dead from the previous year, when some 1 million people had died of famine. According to Teruhiko Muto's Nihon no Hanabi no Ayumi (History of Fireworks in Japan), this river was preferred as place of holding the festival to avoid the summer heat. This became an annual event since 1810, under the name Ryōgoku Kawabiraki, which held on the last Saturday in July. The tradition continued nearly every year until 1920s, ceasing entirely during WWII and for several decades afterwards. Finally, in 1978, the tradition was reinstated, and continues to nowadays.

Now is known as Sumida River Fireworks Festival (Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai), and follows the Japanese tradition of being an competition between rival pyrotechnic groups (previously organized into guilds). Each group tries to out-do the last, and the result is an incredible variety of fireworks, not just in different colors and patterns, but forming shapes as complicated as Doraemon, Pikachu, or Kanji.  A key characteristic of many Japanese fireworks is that they are spherical, being named according to their effects. Some of the names are flowers, including kiku (chrysanthemum), botan (tree peony) and yanagi (willow). Street vendors sell various drinks and food, and held various games, such as Kingyo-sukui (Goldfish scooping). Even today, men and women attend these events wearing the traditional Yukata (summer Kimono), or Jinbei (men only), collecting in large social circles of family or friends to sit picnic-like, eating and drinking, while watching the show.

During the summer,  the fireworks festivals (hanabi taikai - which literally means "fire flowers festivals") are held in Japan nearly every day someplace in the country, in total numbering more than 200 during August. Of course, they consist mainly of large fireworks shows, the largest of which use between 100,000 and 120,000 rounds (PL Art of Fireworks - a religious event of Church of Perfect Liberty  that occurs on August 1 every year in Tondabayashi).

Both postcards shows this festival, the first one in nowadays, and the second in 19th century. Actually the second is a reproduction of River Carnival at Ryogoku by Hiroshige Ando (1797-1858; a ukiyo-e artist, one of the last great artists in that tradition), and is part of a series named "One Hundred Views of Edo, Ukiyo-e". Akiko made me a great joy sending me this pair of postcards (a kind of "Sumida River Fireworks Festival then and now"). Moreover, the first one has a stamp with the same theme.

About the stamps
On the first postcard
The stamp, depicting also Sumida River Fireworks Festival, is part of the series Travel Scenes Series Number 15  - Tokyo, Ueno / Asakusa and Sumidagawa Area, about which I wrote here.

On the second postcard

The first stamp was issued in 1972, with the occasion of the reversion of Okinawa from post-war US occupation, and shows the famous 16th century Shurei-mon gate in Naha, Okinawa, destroyed during WWII, and reconstructed in the 1960s.

The second is part of a series depicting vegetables.

Fireworks - Wikipedia
Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival - Wikipedia
Summer: the season of 'fire flowers' - Japan Times

sender 1, 2: Akiko Watanabe (direct swap)
sent from Kitakyūshū (Kyūshū / Japan), on 01.08.2013

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