Summer is the season for fireworks and in Japan, tens of thousands of people gather to watch the thunderous sparks light up the warm evening skies. But there’s one fireworks festival that’s not quite like any other: the Gion Matsuri in Toyohashi, which, each year, takes place on the 3rd Friday of July.
Last month, on July 15th, 4000 participants gathered with their hollowed-out bamboos stuffed with gun powder. These cannons, called tezutsu hanabi, are wrapped in sacred rope and prepared several months in advance. The men then light these fireworks and hold them securely to their bodies as sparks shoot up into the sky and then rain down on them.
The ancient festival dates back over 400 years when it was thought to have originated as a form of tribute to the deities. It was also thought of as a rite of passage for young men to prove their bravery. It later evolved into a ritual thought to bring good harvests and good health. But the tradition has largely remained the same and, to this day, participants all make their own fireworks by hand – everything from securing the bamboo to stuffing it with gunpowder and then firing it.
Photographer Hidenobu Suzuki was on-site to capture the action. He notes that, surprisingly, the festival doesn’t allow for use of tripods. The cameras and large, long-distance lenses, had to be hand held. Regardless, the images are to trimmed or enhanced in any way. The photos capture moments, says the photographer: moments of surprise, moments of fear and moments of happiness.