Akiko Amano, the first female head of a pyrotechnics family stretching back 31/2 centuries, is determined to overcome the decline in the nation’s pyrotechnics industry and bring the magic of highly artistic, traditional fireworks to today’s youth.
Amano, 30, recently traveled from Tokyo to the shores of the Kamanashi River in the Kofu basin in Yamanashi Prefecture to view a trial fireworks show prior to a large pyrotechnic display scheduled for summer.
“For fireworks experts, spring is a very busy time. This is an important period for us to prepare for the fireworks season,” said Amano, who ascended to the head of the Kagiya pyrotechnic family in a name-taking ceremony in January.
Kagiya was founded in 1659 by a man who came to Edo (now Tokyo) from Nara. In 1733, the sixth head of the family staged a huge fireworks exhibition at the Ryogoku River festival in Edo, held in a bid to eradicate a then-prevailing plague. The fete became a popular event in the city.
“I want to review Japan’s fireworks tradition. I would like to gain enough experience so that people will recognize the beauty of fireworks arranged by me, the 15th head of Kagiya,” Amano said.
Tradition can no longer be maintained without reform and good ideas, Amano said, and she is determined to become a “comprehensive producer of fireworks” suited for the 21st century.
A pyrotechnist designs various kinds of “dago” bombs, submits designs to factories for manufacture, negotiates with sponsors of large fireworks exhibits, and directs and executes pyrotechnic displays.
Seven years ago, Amano was trained at Saiki Fireworks Co., a manufacturer in Ichikawadaimon in Yamanashi Prefecture.
“You can’t be a full-fledged fireworks expert unless you understand the process behind manufacturing fireworks, and the job that the workmen do.”
Amano, the second of three daughters in the Kagiya family, has a great deal of respect for her father, Osamu, who pioneered the use of electric power to light fireworks, and used remote control detonation for the first time 26 years ago.
Until her father’s innovation, pyrotechnists had detonated fireworks by placing their hands into the fireworks pipes, often suffering hearing damage from the explosions. Osamu himself has poor hearing in his right ear as a result of his work.
“About 100 people work to set up a fireworks exhibition prior to a display, and the energy level can be pretty intense. High strain causes accidents, but everybody is relaxed when my father is around,” Amano said. “Human reliance is the most important thing in the world. I want to follow my father in providing that.”
People the world over have been dazzled by elaborate Japanese fireworks displays. However, the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 1990s brought decreasing orders for manufacturers, and fierce price competition has sprung up between them and their foreign counterparts.
According to the Japan Pyrotechnics Association, domestic manufacturers turned out 10.4 billion yen worth of fireworks in fiscal 1997, while foreign-made fireworks totaled 3 billion yen.
People tend to prefer complex fireworks displays, and the number of imported fireworks used in them is increasing, association officials said.
“Kagiya has been competing with the quality of its fireworks, not the quantity,” Amano said. “Spectators get fed up with successive displays. I would like to show them how beautiful one firework is.”
Amano will make her debut at a large fireworks exhibition in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward on the night of Aug. 4 before more than 1 million spectators.
“Cracks, crumps and tracks. I love the sounds of fireworks. I want to pursue these sounds. What I seek are fireworks that make spectators forget about everything and take them back to their childhood.”
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