Pyrotechnician’s pride in his work. Top rated orange and ideal blue.
Japanese people love fireworks.
“I see romance in fireworks. They go out in a moment”, says Mr. Hiroyuki Yamauchi, a pyrotechnician.
Yamauchi Enkaten’s fireworks display named “Japanese flowers ~Wabi~” won the Prime Minister’s Award, which was the highest award of all, at “Omagari Fireworks Competition”. The fireworks’ color “Wabi orange”, which comes from burning pine soot, brightens up the night sky and leaves a strong impression and then fades out in the afterglow.
In the fireworks industry, where techniques and creativity are needed, each company has their own strength in their techniques and traditions they have developed. Therefore it’s difficult for other companies to enter the field. There are currently 325 fireworks companies in Japan. Out of those, there are about 130 companies who can manufacture shakudama* fireworks for fireworks festivals, which is not many at all.
(*Shakudama refers to a certain size of fireworks shells and it expands to a diameter of about 300 meters when it explodes in the sky.)
“Fireworks aren’t going anywhere, they will be always around, I think”, says Mr. Yamauchi.
No matter the era, we humans are always after and want to feel impressed by beautiful things.
Mr. Hiroyuki Yamauchi is the 4th generation of “Yamauchi Enkaten”, which has been in business for 150 years, since the first year of Meiji era. Their fireworks display “Japanese flowers ~Wabi~” won the Prime Minister’s Award at the Omagari National Japanese Fireworks Competition in 2012. They’re renowned for their bright orange colored fireworks that light up the night sky, which have even been named “Yamauchi Orange” amongst pyrotechnicians.
History and that one moment.
Yamauchi Enkaten moved with the times. Their business began producing fireworks in the first year of Meiji era. That was the year when the Boshin war broke out in Japan.
“Before then, the business used to be called ‘Asahiryu Kajutsushi’ and their job was to light up a signal fire. Then it became a fireworks business when Meiji era started. Around that time, a house’s value was 100yen and the prize money for a fireworks competition was also 100 yen. As you can see, they gave so much value to fireworks back then and pyrotechnicians all worked on their creation and produced many different fireworks.”
There was a time when they couldn’t make fireworks during war, but they resumed business after the war ended.
There was also a time when Mr. Yamauchi’s grandfather was taken to America to help manufacturing and launching the fireworks for the American Independence Day ceremony.
“My grandfather was apparently giving out chocolate and hard candy he brought back from America to his neighbors.”
Mr. Yamauchi, the 4th generation of his family business, started helping work when he was little.
As they say, “A saint’s maid quotes Latin”, even when he was still training, people used to say, “He’s a son of a pyrotechnician after all” and acknowledged his high level of techniques.
“It’s our family business and I’ve never felt that I wanted to do something other than fireworks. When the fireworks explode in the sky, you hear the spectators go ‘Whoa!’ right? That’s the best feeling. You feel their excitement straight. That’s the moment that makes me happiest.”
The best color.
The evolution of fireworks in Japan accelerated with the Meiji Restoration.
“Potassium chlorate, which is used to make matches, was introduced into Japan. Since then, Japanese fireworks got a lot brighter. Until then, the main type of fireworks was called ‘’Wabi Yanagi (Willow).”
However, potassium chlorate is a strong chemical and since it caused a lot of accidents, they started using potassium perchlorate instead for safety. While potassium perchlorate is safer to work with, it is harder to ignite it, and this is where pyrotechnicians’ skills were tested. “Pyrotechnicians have to be able to make and launch fireworks”, says Mr. Yamauchi with a smile.
Burning rates and colors of powder. He experiments over and over again and when he finally gets what he’s after, he puts them into a fireworks shell. He tells us you can see the makers’ characteristics in the way the fireworks expand and the arrangement of colors.
’Katamono fireworks’, which is a type of fireworks that form many kinds of shapes in the sky, are sometimes trendy, but they don’t become a main course. I think this is related to why people never get bored of Japanese fireworks but the ball shaped fireworks are on the top after all.
There are five primary colors in fireworks, which are red, blue, green, yellow and silver, and you can mix them just like paints and make more than ten different colors.
Let’s say you want red in your fireworks, but there are different shades of red you can make, so when you actually see the color you wanted in the sky, that’s the best color.”
What Yamauchi Enkaten is renowned for is their bright orange fireworks that burn at over 3000 degrees (c) in a moment. Orange is also their corporate color and it’s a special color for them. The color of orange in their fireworks is even named “Yamauchi Orange”.
“The color I want to make is blue. The blue of runway lights you see at night. I always liked airplanes and that’s probably why but that indescribable color of blue is ideal. I’ve been working on it and I’m getting close to making that color.”
Fireworks in old times, fireworks in future.
“When you think about why people think fireworks are beautiful, it’s the same theory as in why Japanese people like cherry blossoms. They bloom in a flash and fall in a flash. The transience is what we admire and because they’re gone in a flash, it moves us strongly, I think.”
National mentality, delicacy, romance… The choice of Mr. Yamauchi’s words is crisp. He tells us he gets wowed every time he sees fireworks made ingeniously all over Japan.
“Isawa’s fireworks are going to lead the world of fireworks. The number of buildings has been increasing in Japan, which is forcing Japanese fireworks to go smaller and smaller. But it can’t be helped. So our challenge for the future is ‘how much we can entertain people with small fireworks’. We need to make them impressive with ingenuity…”
Mr. Yamauchi tells us he still gets nervous before the launch of his fireworks even if he has experienced a lot of fireworks festivals in his career.
“I want to use powder for safe things. Imagination, research, and challenge. Our company’s slogan is ‘A flash of romance drawn in the night sky’. At the moment, I’m also thinking of bringing back the old-time fireworks that bring on nostalgia.”
When andon* lamps were once commonly used for lighting in Japan, how did the fireworks explode in a pitch-black night? What did they look like in people’s eyes?
(*Andon is a lamp with a paper shade and a frame made out of wood or metal.)
Just like that, thinking about someone’s wishes and dreams, a pyrotechnician, Mr. Hiroyuki Yamauchi’s romance begins from there.