The first public fireworks festival was held in 1733. The previous year, Japan suffered a great famine, during which more than 900,000 people starved to death. Cholera victims were dying in the street. To "comfort the souls of the dead and drive away pestilence," Shogun Yoshimune organized a fireworks display by the pyrotechnic Tamaya family, who duly set off 20 rockets along Sumida River and caused a sensation.
The competitive element was introduced when a splinter group of the Tamaya family, the Kagiya clan, set up a rival company in 1810 and used the Ryogoku Fireworks Festival as an opportunity to vie for supremacy. To this day, some spectators continue the practice of crying "Tamaya" or "Kagiya" with each fireworks burst.