Searching all of Japan for handcrafted items that express its heart and soul, our proprietor, KASHIYUKA, presents things that bring a bit of luxury to everyday life. The purchase, this time around, is senko hanabi, a very particular variety of firework that causes Japanese hearts to flutter with nostalgic feelings for summer. She pays a visit to a studio in Fukuoka, where they’re handmade using all natural materials.
Ever since I was a child I’ve love, love, loved things like fireworks and seasonal festival games like catching goldfish. Even as an adult, I still find myself entranced with fireworks whenever I return to my grandmother’s home.
Tsutsui Tokimasa Gangu Hanabi Seizousho in Miyama-shi, Fukuoka began in 1929. They’ve since been making all sorts of beautiful “sparks” using natural raw materials, as in their senko hanabi, with its 400-year history.
“Original senko hanabi were simple stalks of rice straw topped with gunpowder. In the Edo period, young women would prop them in an incense burner and enjoy watching them sparkle. They called them senko hanabi, because they resembled stick incense of that name. Later, a popular style you could hold in the hand was developed,” said the third-generation craftsman, Mr. Tsutsui. I was surprised to learn that eastern and western Japan each have their distinct styles. The western, using straw stalks, are closer to the original sparkler type. Today I watched how the eastern style is made, using wrapped paper.
First, the gunpowder is made. Pine soot, sulfur, and saltpeter are mixed for a half day in a machine that looks like a huge bingo tumbler. The process of wrapping the powder in thin, hand-dyed leaves of paper is a wonder to watch! They twist the paper with the fingers of both hands, taut and firm, and it becomes straight, wire-thin and rigid in just seconds! The beauty of the sparkle and the timing of the fireball flameout at the end all rely on this twining process. This delicate skill is said to produce the best fireworks in this esteemed Japanese tradition, anywhere in the world.