“Pistol’ festival.” and Tezutsu shinji
On the evening of July 13, after a ceremony at the shrine, boys take turns holding up and lighting off the fireworks mortars. The fireworks form a flaming pillar close to ten meters long that spews forth for over ten seconds. Sparks shower down all over the boys’ bodies, and those who can endure it are recognized as full-fledged young men. This rite is the tezutsu shinji.
It is a rite conducted during the Gion Festival (Gion matsuri) held July 13–15 at Yoshida Shrine in Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture. The event is also known as the Yoshida Tennō Festival and has been well known along Japan’s famed Tōkaidō (“eastern sea route”) since ancient times. Toyohashi’s annual Gion Festival, staged every July since the mid-1500’s at Yoshida Shrine, Toyohashi Park, just behind the remains of Yoshida Castle overlooking the Toyokawa River. The splendor of its festivities was depicted in Tōkaidō meisho zue (“Famous views along the Tōkaidō”), an illustrated travel guide published in 1797.
Today, the festival is known especially for the handmade, handheld mortars (tezutsu enka, lit. “pistol fireworks”) heroically shot off during the proceedings. The hand held fireworks, called Tezutsu Hanabi, are believed to have originated as a form of battlefield and inter-castle communication smoke devices called “Noroshi”. As gunpowder was introduced and production perfected, the now rare hand-held fireworks became a popular summer festival attraction.
The Tezutsu hand-held fireworks cannon are simple hollowed out bamboo cylinders about 80 cm long and ten to 15 cm wide, and wrapped tightly in ropes of woven rice stalks. Each of the participants are responsible for hand making their own launcher, and packing it with about three kilograms of old styled black powder. Dressed in traditional clothing, including special thickly woven fireproof cotton quilted jackets reported to cost in excess of 150,000 yen (about $1,500) each, the men line up in the darkness, and assisted by the match-man carrying a small flame, carry the hot flaming bamboo cannon aloft during its short, volcanic-like explosive life.
A pair of events are presented as votive offerings—a riverside fireworks display held on July 14 and a portable shrine (shin’yo) procession (togyo; see shinkōsai) on July 15 accompanied by various performances such as the “bamboo grass dance” (sasa odori). Children parade, dancing in the eight “towns” of the city which are under protection of the shrine to herald the start of the festival.
The Grand Finale consists of a number of huge Tezutsu Hanabi mounted on portable shrine like frames, which are carried by local teams and set off one after the other in the main arena. Tickets for the better seats within the sports ground setting range from 500 yen for the “B” seats (ie, right at the very back) to 3,500 yen for the “SS Special” box seats. See a real Fireworks demonstration, the traditional way, in Toyohashi next July!