Today, May 28th, is Fireworks Day in Japan. This day in 1733, over 280 years ago, marked the beginning of Japan’s oldest fireworks festival along the Sumidagawa River. Although it was later moved to mid-July, the festival was originally organized by Shogun Yoshimune Tokugawa as a way of warding off bad luck and epidemics. Japan had endured great suffering that year from starvation, largely due to an epidemic of cholera. And it’s believed that the fireworks festival was intended to memorialize victims and pray for an end to the epidemic.

a surprise fireworks festival held in Gifu on May 28, 2020 (all photos courtesy Sankei Photo)

According to researchers, “the fireworks tradition and culture seen throughout Japan today can largely be attributed to an honouring of tragic events.” And today, Murase Hanabi, a 100-year maker of fireworks, is remembering that tradition in a fireworks festival they held in their hometown of Gifu City. However, to prevent crowds from gathering, there was no pre-announcement and the festival caught locals by surprise.

In fact, expect all of Japan’s fireworks festivals (the ones that aren’t cancelled, at least) to be held at undisclosed times and dates this year.