Fireworks Illuminate History

Changes in Color
Until the Edo period, fireworks craftsmen tried to change the colors of flames by changing the types of charcoals. As various chemicals started to be imported in the Meiji period, craftsmen were finally able to light up certain colors. Thereafter, it was discovered that red and green can be more vivid by adding some magnesium, and the mixture of strontium and copper can spark purple flames. These findings led to the invention of the 1990’s iconic intermediate colors. Lemon yellow, light blue, emerald green, etc. started to appear, and people began to pursue their desired colors. Around this time, the new technique of the flickering single color was developed. Since people started to emphasize colors, the old color of the Edo period, wabi, returned to the stage. The sumibi-iro – charcoal fire red or dark orange– attracts spectators with its tender and warm tint.

Warimono: The Trend of Multiple Layers

Warimono is a type of firework unique to Japan, and its shape is a concentric sphere. In the Taisho period, shinmono (double-layered fireworks) were invented. The shinmono consists of a shin, internal core, and an external layer inside a warimono, and is double-layered when it explodes. In 1928, yaeshin (triple-layered fireworks) were introduced for the first time. A yaeshin has two internal cores and one external layer. It requires sophisticated techniques to produce a shinmono in which each layer scatters with a perfectly matched center. People believed that with it the technical limit had been reached and it was impossible to insert another layer in the core; therefore, they named the fireworks yaeshin, meaning eight layers of cores, even though it only has two layers of internal cores. However, craftsmen pushed their limits further by inventing mieshin (four-layered fireworks) and goeshin (six-layered fireworks) in the Heisei period. Recently, these highly advanced fireworks have been frequently seen in the competition.

Kata: Various Types of Warimono
Yashi (palm) is an iconic type of warimono that consists of stars with a variety of sizes and different arrangements of layers. The shape of the thick light resembles palm leaves. Yashi was introduced in 1975. Recently, a new category of warimono – happo-saki – was developed. They scatter bunches of stars, and their shapes resemble flower petals. They are also called poinsettias or mangekyo (kaleidoscope), depending on their shapes.

Katamono: From Sphere to Complex Three-Dimensional Shapes
It is said that katamono – creating various shapes by arranging stars and the ways stars scatter – have existed since the Taisho period. In the beginning, katamano were quite simple and two-dimensional, such as one comprising a cross within a circle. As technology developed, katamono were integrated into more complex and three-dimensional shapes by utilizing ring shapes, such as the Atomic-sign, which consists of two crossing circles, the Saturn (or UFO), which consists of a ring and a sphere, and the mugiwara-boshi (straw hat), which consists of a ring and a half sphere. Moreover, craftsmen no longer stuck to ring shapes, and started to create various shapes such as butterflies, dragonflies, and glasses. The current era is one of seeking more complex and solid geometric designs.

Time Difference: Appearing Out of Nowhere
One of the most remarkable fireworks today are called jikan-sa (time difference). They disappear once they explode, but appear again in the darkness. They appear out of nowhere with different colors and sometimes start moving after reappearing. The origin of jikan-sa is the Magic-Botan (magic peony), which was introduced in 1968. These fireworks amused spectators and stunned competitors in the industry with their extraordinary feature, in which half of the sphere appears first and the other half appears with a time difference. Moreover, the iconic feature of Japanese fireworks – switching colors between the main stars – evolved from double color changes to triple or more color changes.