The featured image is by Japanese printmaker, Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915) (courtesy of the British Museum and WikiCommons). His image captures the tradition of fireworks over the Ryogoku in Tokyo made famous by Utagawa Hiroshige in his One Hundred Views of Edo of 1858, seen below.
The Ryogoku Bridge was one of the most famous bridges that spanned the Sumida River, if not the most famous. Hiroshige repeatedly drew it.
Unlike the fireworks in Western society at New Year’s (and now a tradition also in Asia), those over the Ryogoku Bridge are at the end of summer during the Obon Festival. This Japanese holiday remembers and honours the spirit of the ancestors. This annual celebration often consists of as many as 20,000 separate displays. It began in 1613 when gunpowder was introduced to the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. It is thought that gunpowder and fireworks explosives were a present from the British diplomat acting on behalf of King James I and a Chinese trader. Known as hanabi with hana meaning flower and bi meaning fire, these fire shaped flower displays first took place for the public over the Sumida River in 1733. At that time they were in remembrance of the million people who had died from extreme poverty the year before. They have continued to today where the lights and smoke entertain people for one to two hours as part of the annual summer festival.
It is somewhat fitting to think of the fireworks going off around the world to close 2020 and welcome 2021 as a way of remembering all of the souls lost to SARS-Covid 19 during 2020.