Fireworks in Ryukyu

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Fireworks were historically employed in the Ryûkyû Kingdom in a number of ways and on a number of occasions.

It is unclear when gunpowder was first introduced into the Ryukyu Islands, but gunpowder weapons are known to have been in use by the 1450s, if not earlier.[1]

Celebratory fireworks were also a common feature of traditional celebrations in the kingdom, and are known to have both accompanied the annual Naha Tug-of-War,[2] and to have been a part of events organized to entertain visiting Chinese investiture envoys.[3]

Karakuri Shikake Hanabi

Of particular interest are fireworks displays potentially distinctive to Ryukyuan culture known as karakurimono or karakuri shikake hanabi. Rather than simple rockets or the like fired into the air, or simple sparklers, these karakurimono devices were physical objects, lacquered, painted, and/or carved to feature dragons, clouds, and other designs, which employed some form of mechanism to spin or move as they shot out sparkers or fuller explosions.

An illustrated book by Yakibu chikudun, entitled Hibana hô nikki and held by the Naha City Museum of History, includes illustrations of one such device, displayed as part of entertainments for envoys who traveled to Ryûkyû in 1866 for the investiture of King Shô Tai, the final king of the kingdom. Named sôryû (twin dragons), the device consists of a box or other form carved or painted to resemble the auspicious five-colored (zuiun) clouds prevalent in Ryukyuan culture, displayed atop a staff; when activated, a pair of wheels on either side of the clouds spin and shoot out fireworks sparks while a rising sun emerges from the top, a pair of dragons appear to climb the staff, and a series of banners unfurl and are displayed.

Sadly, the traditions of precisely how these devices were constructed and operated have been lost to time. However, efforts have been made to reconstruct and revive the tradition.


  • "Shurijo Castle and Performing Arts," exhibition pamphlet, National Theater Okinawa, October-December 2020.
  1. Uezato Takashi 上里隆史. "Ryûkyû no kaki ni tsuite" (琉球の火器, "The fireweapons in the Ryukyus"). Okinawa Bunka 沖縄文化. vol. 36:1, no. 91 (July 2000). pp73-92.
  2. Uezato, 80.
  3. "Sappôshi kankei chôsai ni tsuite"「冊封使関係調査について」, Fee nu kaji 南ぬ風 5 (2007/10-12), 15.