Japan skies lit up with fireworks to brighten mood amid virus

©Kyodo News

Simultaneous fireworks displays colored the night skies in Tokyo and other parts of Japan on Monday, with fireworks makers hoping the sight will cheer the nation up as it struggles with the coronavirus pandemic.

With many of the fireworks festivals during summer canceled or postponed, pyrotechnicians nationwide have joined to launch the "Cheer Up! Hanabi Project." To avoid drawing crowds, the organizers initially intended to keep the date, time and location under wraps, but later went public with the date.

On top of having no audience, the fireworks will only last about five minutes, compared to the usual one hour or longer for most fireworks festivals.

"People are facing tough times now because of the coronavirus. We thought what could we do? So we decided to do what only we can do, which is to set off fireworks in the hope of providing encouragement," said Kohei Ogatsu, director of the Tokyo-based Marutamaya Ogatsu Fireworks Co.

Ogatsu, 38, is one of 11 people taking the lead in the project. The idea was conceived in April, and in early May, the organizers sent a fax to about 300 companies explaining what they planned. About 160 firms across Japan are set to participate.

"The fireworks also carry our wish for the coronavirus outbreak to be contained," said Ogatsu, the director of Marutamaya Ogatsu Fireworks, which dates its founding to 1864. It is one of the groups involved in the Sumida River summer fireworks festival.

Ogatsu added that unbeknownst to many, fireworks in Japan were born as a response to an epidemic. The first event, he said, was held in 1733 following an outbreak of cholera to pray for the souls of those who died and for an end to the disease.

"As we face gloomy news due to the virus, people often tend to look down but when fireworks are set off, we look up. I hope we can help people do just that," said Ogatsu.