Last week the United States celebrated its birthday, and in true American tradition, the fourth of July was celebrated in the capital with a fireworks display that attracts thousands of tourists each year. In other parts of the US as well, fireworks are an independence day tradition, and many other major cities also boast their own displays, such as New York and San Diego.
Although fireworks are a global symbol of celebration, its origins are in Asian culture – with some of the most elaborate displays today being done in the Asian region today.
Fireworks originated in China, with the earliest recorded accounts of fireworks dating back to the 7th century. They were originally developed fireworks as a means of entertainment for the emperor’s court. However they quickly gained popularity, and the science of firework-making became a respected profession.
Woodblock print of Fireworks. Image via Era Woodblock Prints.
Europeans and western cultures came to know about fireworks in the mid 17th century, right about the time when Christian missions and colonial expeditions began to bring bits of asian culture back to their homelands. Early explorers called fireworks “Chinese flowers,” relating to the aesthetic qualities of the displays. Similarly, the Japanese term for fireworks, “Hanabi,” also translates to “flowers of fire.”
Fireworks are still traditionally Chinese and are a large part of the chinese culture, especially for festivals. Two of the major festivals celebrated with fireworks are the Mid-autumn festival and of course, Lunar new year. Today, China remains the largest manufacturer of fireworks in the world.
Elsewhere in Asia, particularly in Japan, fireworks are also a cultural event, especially in the summer. Fireworks festivals, or Hanabi-taikai, are held throughout Japan, showcasing some of the most elaborate displays in the world.
Famous fireworks festivals in Japan include the Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai, held over the Sumida river in Tokyo, and the Yokohama Hanabi Taikai, which also takes place over water in Yokohama bay. During such festivals, street vendors set up stalls, where spectators can buy street food and also play games. Many people also wear traditional garb during the festivals such as Yukata (Summer Kimono) and Jinbei (Summer shorts and short robe).
Of course, one doesn’t really need to go to a large event to see fireworks displays – provided you can purchase them where you are, you can try and have your own fireworks summer party. Smaller fireworks are generally safer and ideal for these events, but still definitely have a festive vibe.
Add some sparkle to your summer with some fireworks!
All images in this post by Renee Alfonso, unless otherwise indicated.