The city of Daisen, in Akita Prefecture, is home to some of Japan’s largest fireworks competitions. It also has a long history of pyrotechnics production, and some of the country’s most respected fireworks companies, including Komatsuenka and Hibikiya, are based there. As these firms prepare for the 16th International Fireworks Symposium in Daisen’s Omagari neighborhood from April 24 to 29, 2017, we speak with two women who have dedicated themselves to this craft that blends chemistry and aesthetics.
A native of Yamaguchi Prefecture, Settsu had worked as a construction foreman and in other construction-related jobs before she was drawn to the world of fireworks thanks to a chance visit to a fireworks festival in Nagano about 10 years ago. She went on a whim, but her decision changed her life. “There was one skyrocket that I remember that brought me to tears – I had to find out who manufactured it. When I found out that it was Komatsuenka, I called them right away.”
But it wasn’t an easy job application. The head of the company refused her at first. He acknowledged her enthusiasm, but told her that the hours would be too long and the pay too little. Undaunted, she returned to ask for a job some time later, only to be turned down again. It was on her third and final request that the president said, “Well, if you’re that eager…” and he offered her the job.
That was when the real challenges – and rewards – began. “It was very tough, and there were some times when I thought about quitting. But the moment when I saw the first skyrocket I ever made decorate the night sky with a ‘BANG!’ I knew that I had made the right decision. But at the same time, as if I were thinking about the fireworks as my own children, I wanted to improve my skill even more.”
Settsu has been working at Komatsuenka for nine years, is married to a man from Akita, and has a four-year-old daughter. She is constantly pushing herself to develop new fireworks, and she is most proud of her latest creation: the lyrically named “A Tear Falling from a Cheek, Transformed into a Star.”
Like Settsu, Hashimoto is something of an honorary “Akita Obako.” She is from Miyazaki Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu, and began working at the Hibikiya Fireworks Company this year. She was also profoundly moved by a fireworks display – in her case, while on a working holiday in Australia. “Even though fireworks shows in Australia are different from those in Japan, I knew that I wanted to take a chance at a job that would let me inspire those kinds of emotions in people.”
Hashimoto moved back to Japan and started studying fireworks for some time in Niigata, moving to Hibikiya during the season of deepest snow, in January. While she is just learning the art of pyrotechnics, the path she has set for herself is already clear: “I want to make fireworks that we can enter into competitions; fireworks that surprise people and bring a smile to their faces.”
When to See Fireworks in Daisen
August 27, 2016: National Fireworks Competition
October 8, 2016: Omagari Autumn Fireworks
March 18, 2017: Omagari Winter Fireworks
April 24-29, 2017: 16th International Fireworks Symposium