What I miss the most about Japanese summer is those amazing fireworks.
They are inseparable from my childhood memories of summer festivals and make me very, very nostalgic!
If you have been to a firework event in Japan, you might have heard some people shout “Tamaya! Kagiya!” (たまや！かぎや！). These calls are archaic, but I still heard them when I was growing up in a small town near Yokohama.
As you Japanese culture enthusiasts may know, these are the names of the most famous firework makers from the Edo period.
Kagiya (鍵屋 かぎや) started operating in 1659 and still exists even today. Tamaya (玉屋 たまや) was established in 1810 but shut down in 1843 due to an accidental fire.
You may have known the origins of the firework calls, but did you know where the names of these firework makers (Tamaya/ Kagiya) were from?
The answer is fox deities.
Fox deity worship was a very common form of spirituality during the Edo period (1603-1868). You can still see many shrines dedicated to them all over Japan.
There were at least three in my small neighborhood, and there was one at my primary school. They are literally all over Japan even today. Not many people now actually worship them, but they still treat these shrines with respect.
Now look at the picture above. Can you see that the fox has a key in his mouth? (It’s not a sword, by the way!)
A key is “kagi” in Japanese. So “Kagiya” literally means a “key shop”.
Another common item fox deities carry is a ball that is similar to the one dragons carry.
A ball is “Tama”…
You got it right. “Tamaya” literally means a “ball shop”.
So these two firework makers got their names inspired by the fox deities.
I don’t think many Japanese know this, so if you do your Japanese friends will be impressed 😁
See you next time!