An iconic part of summer in Japan gets a throwback to its 18th century samurai-era roots.

Along with towering cumulonimbus clouds and chirping cicadas, fireworks are an iconic element of a Japanese summer. In a normal year, countless fireworks festivals, ranging from huge events that draw out hundreds of thousands of spectators to small local gatherings, take place across the country.

2020 is, however, turning out to be anything but a normal year. While the official state of coronavirus emergency has been lifted in much of Japan, large events are still being discouraged and many people are voluntarily doing what they can to avoid crowds, which has led to the cancellation of just about every fireworks festival that was supposed to happen this summer. So a lot of people were surprised on Monday night when they suddenly saw scenes like this.

Roughly 160 fireworks producing companies decided to launch what they dubbed the Cheer up! Hanabi Project (hanabi being the Japanese word for “fireworks”), lighting up the night sky simultaneously in various locations around Japan.

▼ The Sumidagawa River and Skytree in Tokyo

▼ Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture’s historical Kintai Bridge

The project was kept a closely guarded secret, with reports of the initiative itself only circulating and getting attention a day before the event. Even then, specific locations were not revealed prior to the fireworks being launched, helping keep crowd sizes small while still letting locals enjoy the show.

▼ Gifu Castle atop the hill and the lights of cormorant fishing boats on the Nagaragawa River

▼ The hot spring town of Kinugawa, Tochigi Prefecture

But while this was a big departure from the way these events are usually organized in Japan, it’s actually in keeping with the country’s very first major fireworks festival. Back in the 18th century, Tokugwa Yoshimune, the eight shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, ordered a fireworks display over Tokyo’s Sumidagawa River to appease the souls of the dead and boost the spirits of the living as Japan suffered under the twin tragedies of a famine and cholera epidemic.

▼ Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture

▼ Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture

Keisuke Saiki, the managing director of Yamanashi Prefecture-based Marugo, one of the fireworks producers that participated in the Cheer up! Hanabi Project, said “We hope this will help blow away some of the fatigue people are feeling from the coronavirus pandemic, and also give them a feeling of hope.”

Sources: Iza via Ceron, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he usually goes to at least six fireworks festivals every summer.