The Japanese language can sometimes be a bit too modest. For example, the word tezutsu hanabi( 手筒花火), or “handheld firework tubes,” doesn’t even come close to capturing the awe and majesty of Toyohashi‘s traditional firework display. If I were to name them, I think I would call them “badass arm-launched bamboo fire-cannons.” Who wouldn’t want to see that? I should have gone into marketing.
The cannons themselves are made from a large, hollow piece of bamboo almost a meter long, and wrapped tightly around the outside with rope. The tubes are then packed, by hand with several kilograms of black powder by the performers themselves. As a matter of fact everything, from the cutting of the bamboo to the weaving of the ropes is traditionally done by the performers. As if the craftsmanship of the fireworks was not impressive enough, the performers then grip them with two hands, set a match to them and hold them aloft as a shower of hot sparks rain down on them for 30 seconds or more. The cannon heralds its own end with a thundering boom as the bottom blows out, and then the next cannoneers rush into to take their place.
This local tradition has been going on in the city of Toyohashi since the 1560, and the cannons are thought to have originated from an old type of signal beacon similar to those used at the Great Wall of China. Ancient records write of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu observing such fireworks in Edo Castle, and bringing the technology back to his home in Mikawa province (now Aichi prefecture). Although gunpowder was strictly forbidden at this time, peasants were allowed to use it to light fires in Shinto shrines. Tezutsu Hanabi are still linked to Shinto festivals to this day, most notably Yoshida Shrine, in Toyohashi.
Tezutsu Hanabi festivals can be seen all over Eastern Aichi, as well as Western Shizuoka and parts of Gifu, but the longest running and most well known festivals are in Toyohashi, accessible by both JR Tokaido Line and Meitetsu train lines. Toyohashi Gion Matsuri which takes place annually in mid-June is the popular, but other performances can be observed as late as October.