Interview with Team Aoki Fireworks

For the inaugural display of the 28th Edition of the Montreal International Pyromusical Competition, commencing this Saturday 30th June 2012, I met with Hideo Hirayama, chief designer for Aoki Fireworks.

Only the second company to represent Japan in Montreal, Aoki represent the “new” face of the traditional Japanese art of Hanabi. Founded in 1905, they perform around 20 pyromusicals per year. The art of the pyromusical is relatively new to Hanabi, most Japanese fireworks displays being of traditional form where shells are appreciated one by one. The artisanship in the Japanese fireworks industry is arguably second to none and it is a rare treat to witness a purely Japanese-sourced display outside of Japan.

Hideo told me that he had been personally responsible for the manufacture of many of the shells used in the display. Indeed, 98% of the material is from the Aoki factory, with the other 2% being Chinese shells of calibre smaller than 5″ and containing specific effects such as falling leaves. Of particular interest is the use of many thousands of one-shots, all set up in special stainless steel racks. The racks are designed to allow fast setup of accurate firing angles. Particularly interesting was the loading mechanism – the lift charge containing an ematch goes in first and then the star or comet is added, by hand, afterwards. So none of the one-shots were pre-manufactured, but essentially all were assembled onsite as they were placed in the racks. It was also mentioned that many of the shells would be “double-bubbled”, to quote a term I heard in the US for the practice of putting two shells in one mortar. To the uninitiated, it sounds like it couldn’t work, but it does, in fact, allow both shells to be launched at the same time.


Stainless steel one-shot rack system

With so many one-shots, it will be a complex display, using 220 32-cue FireOne Ultra firing modules, making it one of the largest cue-counts in the history of the competition. For music, a selection of original Japanese music, not necessarily “popular” pieces, but selected to harmonize with the fireworks and demonstrate the new Japanese style of pyromusical. Hideo, speaking at times through an interpreter, mentioned that this was Aoki’s first ever international competition and that he was feeling stressed to be representing his country. Despite the stress, he assured us that his intent was to demonstrate the acme of the art of Hanabi and this would be his main reward.

Transport had been a headache for Aoki, due to the large number of category 1.1 shells, but the competition organizers were able to find shipping lines to bring the products to Montreal.

Hideo Hirayama assembling one-shot racks

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