The Development of Fireworks in Omagari

1) The Origin of Fireworks in Omagari
The association between fireworks and Omagari dates back to the Edo era. However, only a few written documents remain today. At the outset, fireworks evolved as signal fires – noroshi – to inform allies that they are under attack by enemy forces. Over the course of time, peace enveloped the nation, and there was a marked change in the use of gunpowder. Fireworks began to flourish in Omagari primarily with Shinto shrines’ festivals and because of patronage by wealthy merchants who operated waterway transportation businesses on the Maruko river and the Omono river.
2) Arrival of the Satake Clan and the Legend of Fireworks’ Arrival in Akita
There is a legend regarding the emergence of fireworks in Akita. After the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, the Satake clan – the lord of Hitachi Province (a part of the current Ibaraki prefecture) before the battle – was assigned to be the lord of Akita Province. When the Satake clan’s members moved to Akita from Hitachi, the clan’s firearm specialist met a girl in a village on the way and fell in love with her. Subsequently, he ran away with the girl, and went into hiding in a village, where he secretly shared the formulation of fireworks and manufactured them.
Presently, fireworks producers are located in Jinguji, Hanadate, Uchiotomo, and Rokugo, among others. Their locations are also along the route to Edo – the Ushu Kaido – that was used for *Sankin Kotai by the Satake clan. [*Sankin Kotai: alternate attendance was a policy of the Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo period. All the lords across Japan must visit the shogun in Edo every two years to demonstrate their loyalty to the shogunate.]
3) Documents Regarding Fireworks in Omagari
Materials believed to be fireworks first appeared in a document drafted in 1827. The document – Tsuki No Idewaji – is a topography published by Masumi Sugae following a request from Lord Yoshimasa Satake. In the topography, the fireworks are illustrated in the section of the local ritual of *Tanabata – Omagari No Sato No Neburinagashi. The illustration reveals people walking on the Maruko bridge, many lanterns, and fireworks in the sky. [*Tanabata (七夕) is an annual seasonal ceremony held on July 7th.]
4) The Omono River Water Transportation and Wealthy Merchants
At the end of the Edo period, the Senboku plains were well-known for rice production, and also promoted water transportation on the Omono river. Along the Maruko river, which is connected to the Omono river, there was a port, where wealthy merchants began to descend, and entertainment districts and business quarters began mushrooming. It is presumed that, as the town developed, fireworks were launched frequently as part of important festivals and rituals.
5) The Origin of the Omagari Hanabi National Fireworks Competition
In the Meiji period, the samurai society was dismantled, and wealthy landlords and merchants became more influential so that they could even hire private fireworks artists of their own. In Omagari, people started to launch fireworks as a side show dedicating festivals of the Suwa shrine. In 1910, fireworks were launched not as a side show, but as a main competition for the first time – the first Ou Six Prefectures Fireworks Competition. This competition is considered the origin of the Omagari Hanabi National Fireworks Competition.
6) Fireworks as a Side Show for Festivals of Suwa Shrine
Fireworks are an integral part of shrine festivals. Omagari residents are regarded as major fans of fireworks from the Edo period, and launching fireworks became a custom of festivals held at the Suwa shrine. There were people who dedicated fireworks to the shrine, and there is a written document which says that fireworks were launched in front of dedicated people’s houses. In 1910, people planned to gather fireworks artists from outside Akita to liven up the event.
7) The Promotion of Akita Prefecture Attracted People to the Fireworks Festival
In 1909, the local government of Akita and three newspaper companies in the prefecture planned to jointly pursue the promotion of tourism in Akita. They held an event attended by more than 20 journalists from Tokyo. The first night of the event was marked by an enormous fireworks performance in Omagari. The visitors took a huge river ship which was about 90 square meters in size, and cruised along the Omono river. They were welcomed by a variety of ships, such as an entertainer ship, a restaurant ship, and a beer-hall ship. Over 1,100 fireworks were launched, and some ground fireworks were also performed in the night. It is believed that the entire Senboku Province was lit up by the fireworks, and that this event contributed immensely to the first Ou Six Prefectures Fireworks Competition that was to be conducted in subsequent years.
8) The Commencement of the Ou Six Prefectures Fireworks Competition
In 1910, in the first Ou Six Prefectures Fireworks Competition, various fireworks artists were invited to the competition, from Yamagata, Miyagi, Fukushima, Nagano, Aichi, and, of course, Akita. Since the Tohoku region had never witnessed an event where fireworks artists from various prefectures performed in one place, the competition was considered a revolutionary event for the people in the region. When the Tohoku fireworks artists witnessed the sophisticated and developed skills of artists from Mikawa Province (today’s Aichi), they were in awe. Thereafter, fireworks artists started to compete with each other to create better fireworks, and these efforts accrued and formed the basis of the Omagari Hanabi National Fireworks Competition.
[Pictures and Photos]
– The post town and fireworks along the Ou highway [the map on the middle left side of the panel]: Some fireworks producers still exist in the post town along the Ou roadway which the Satake clan used for the *Sankin Kotai [*Sankin Kotai: alternate attendance). It was a policy of the Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo period. All lords across Japan must visit the shogun in Edo every two years to demonstrate their loyalty to the shogunate.]
– The illustration of the *Neburi Nagashi of Omagari in the topography Idewaji of the Moon (tsuki no idewaji) by Masumi Sugae [the photo on the middle left side]: The oldest written document about fireworks in Omagari. Although they were much inferior to the present-day fireworks, people enjoyed the fireworks that lit up the night sky in the summer. Masumi Sugae is a travel writer from Mikawa Province. He lived in the Kubota castle town from 1811, and worked on the topography. [*Neburi Nagashi is Akita’s old festival.]
– The ban on fireworks [the two photos on the left bottom]: During the Edo period, in the beginning of the 19th century, the Kubota clan declared an order prohibiting fireworks. This demonstrates that fireworks were so popular among citizens, and fireworks were often launched in the Kubota domain around that time.
– Kikusui Kan [the photo on the right side of the panel]: The journalists invited from Tokyo stayed in a place called Kikusui Kan. This building was constructed to accommodate the lord of the Akita domain in the Edo period, and it is believed that the lord stayed there on the way to Edo for the *Sankin Kotai. Kikusui Kan was a magnificent thatched-roof building. Although the building was dismantled owing to its dilapidated condition in 1968, it was rebuilt as the Daisen City Industrial Exhibit Hall in 1991. Today, the building is used as an annex of the Hanabi Museum (this building). [*Sankin Kotai (alternate attendance) was a policy of the Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo period. All lords across Japan needed to visit the shogun in Edo every two years to show their loyalty to the shogunate.]
– The Figure of Prosperity of the Inland Port (kakou hanjou no zu) by Seiroku Kitajima [the picture on the right middle side of the panel]: This picture illustrates the Kakumagawa river port. The inland port was located at the intersection of the Omono and the Yokote rivers, and it flourished as the main base for the transportation of rice which was paid as tax to the local government. Many wealthy merchants and landlords moved in to Omagari, and the area prospered even more.
– The newspaper article of the First Ou Six Prefectures Fireworks Competition from the Akita Sakigake Newspaper [the newspaper article is on the top right of the panel]: The varieties of fireworks launched on that day and houseboats on the Maruko river were mentioned in the article, and it is also reported that Omagari became the “nightless castle.”
– The record of the First Ou Sic Prefectures Fireworks Competition [two photos on the right bottom side of the panel]: The list of fireworks launched and some other documents remained.
– The picture of the annual events of Omagari [the picture on the right bottom side of the panel]: The picture was painted in the early Meiji period, and it illustrates the festival of the Suwa shrine. Audiences on the Maruko bridge and fireworks are shown in the picture.