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Fireworks in tsunami-hit northeast Japan town cheer up residents, pyrotechnicians

Kirikiri district residents watch fireworks in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, on Oct. 23, 2021. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)

OTSUCHI, Iwate -- A fireworks festival was held in this northeast Japan town on Oct. 23 as part of an ongoing effort to cheer up survivors of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, as well as pyrotechnicians who have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

    Some 1,300 fireworks adorned the night sky of Funakoshi Bay near the town's Kirikiri district in the event, titled "Yume Hanabi," which translates to "Dream Fireworks." Messages from residents who made donations for the display were read out at the event by Aina Dote, a third-year student at Iwate Prefectural Kamaishi High School. Two of them addressed people who could not be there.

    "I can only meet you in my dreams, but please watch over us," one of the messages read, while the other went, "Even though you've moved away from our hometown, I support you under the same sky."

    The earthquake and tsunami in 2011 claimed the lives of about 100 people in the Kirikiri district. The fireworks event was first launched in 2014 with funds raised through the collection of waste materials and other means by students at Daisen Municipal Heiwa Junior High School in neighboring Akita Prefecture, who visited people affected by the disasters at their temporary dwellings soon after the temblor.

    A guardian of one of the students happened to be a pyrotechnician in Daisen, which is nationally famous for the Omagari fireworks competition, and this provided momentum for the Kirikiri festival. The fireworks event was held in the Kirikiri district for five years in a row from then.

    Last summer, many fireworks events were canceled across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, young business owners in the district learned about the plight of pyrotechnicians, and held a fireworks festival in acknowledgement of the support for disaster victims.

    This year, too, business owners heard from Yoshikazu Konno, 57, president of a fireworks company in Daisen, that his sales had dropped more than 80%. They then rallied to collect 2 million yen (about $17,600) in donations from some 580 households -- 90% of households in the district -- and managed to stage the event.

    Marin Daino, a third-year student at Kirikiri Gakuen's junior high school division, expressed delight at the staging of the festival amid a series of cancellations of school events and other gatherings due to the pandemic. "Many friends have come; it's like a reunion!" she said excitedly.

    The festival's executive committee chief Hikaru Haga, 47, president of a stone-dealing company, noted the good response, saying: "We started this for children's memories of our hometown. It has become an occasion to pass down stories of the disasters across areas."

    (Japanese original by Takuhide Nakao, Sanriku Local Bureau)

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