The delicate and subtle Senko Hanabi sparklers were introduced to me Tom DeWille, the founder of Luna Tech in Alabygodbama. Later I had occasion to visit Tom at the Luna Tech plant, and spent a couple of enjoyable days there learning how they make stage and theatrical fireworks from him. Tom has always been very generous with information and withheld nothing when I asked about various techniques and formulas. (Did you know that you can make a 5/8″ glitter mine using micro stars only-with no lift powder? Write me, I’ll tell you how. Write Ned, he might even make an article out of it!)
While we were puttering around Luna Tech’s lab at 0-dark:30 one night Tom pulled out what looked like incense sticks and lit one. The thing morphed into the most unbelievably pretty sparkler I had ever laid my eyeballs on.
“Senko Hanabi,” Tom chortled. “Got ‘em in Japan 20 years ago.”
He souvenired me one pack of them, and I rationed ‘em out to myself at the rate of about one a year, until…
Until I saw these teeny, leetle, twisty, colored paper things that Fred Olsen was selling at a PGI Convention several years later.
Holding one in my hand, quizzical expression on my face.
“Senko Hanabi,” Fred chortled. “Got ‘em specially made in China. Nobody else has got ‘em. Here, take one outside and light it.” Which I did. Very different looking on the outside from the incense-stick jobbies DeWille had given me, but performed very similar.
I came back inside and promptly tried to buy all he had.
“Nope. Haven’t got enough of them. Need to ration ‘em out. Dunno when I can get any more of them out of China,” replied Fred.
I bought as many as he would spare, and spent the next 7 years rationing them out to friends and family. And when they lit them, always the same “oohs” and “aahhs.”
But Fred didn’t have any more. I asked every Chinese-connected human bean I knew about getting Senko Hanabis. I met either a blank stare on the phone, or a flat “nope.”
When I first went to China a few years back, I bought Skylighter’s initial container of fireworks directly from the factories owned by Shogun. Shogun’s a really great company. Good people, good product. And they were very helpful to me, a newbie at the game, particularly Joe Wan, one of the company’s owners, and John Werner, their US based product designer.
One day we found ourselves at a factory which makes Morning Glory sparklers, and were poking around the ubiquitous fireworks factory sample shelves-where they display every firework they have ever made for anybody, in any country, in every language, at any time since the last dinosaur croaked.
Lo and behold, there, back behind some 7-inch long firecrackers, was a little bundle of Fred Olsen’s twisty paper style Senkos!
Feigning indifference, I blurted “Quick, ask him if he can make these,” to our translator.
The factory manager called a minion into his office, held a single Senko Hanabi sparkler up, and the guy took off at a trot somewhere. 15 Chinese minutes later he’s back holding a small bundle of freshly made Senko Hanabis in front of my dollar encrusted eyeballs, now blinking rapidly to try and reduce the shine in them.
Outside, they burned and sparkled perfectly. The golden, molten globule forming, shrinking, vibrating, and then finally exploding into the most fabulous sparkler spray of all sparklers! Bingo!
But my visions of retiring on Senko Hanabis were quickly quashed. “Nope. Cain’t make ‘em,” he said in perfect Caintonese.
“Too much trouble. Takes too much time. Too much labor. Too expensive to make now.”
“How expensive?” retorts I (I’m an American, for God’s sake. Money is no object.)
“I dunno. I’ll have my guy get back to your guy on it,” he says.
Well, more than 5 years later, his guy has never gotten back to my guy.
Jump to November 2007. Back in China, this time with my Ace Fireworks Finder, Matt Palaszynski.
For the past 3 years, Matt has known about my quest for the Holy Senko. Now, he has finally found a factory that used to make them. But they have not made them for years (there must be a reason). And he doesn’t know if they’re willing to do it again. We are scheduled to meet the factory owner this morning to see.
We drive through one of the rat-mazes of little, windey, one-lane concrete roads outside Liuyang, me and Anne, with Annie the translator, and Matt. Much cell-phone back-and-forthing, the factory owner homing us in on his office.
We all arrive at his office at about the same time, him on his motorcycle, us in the car. Handshakes all around, the obligatory offering and declines of his cigarettes. Then we get down to bidness.
He fumbles around in his coat and produces a bundle of the sacred Senko Hanabis.
My ears start getting tingly, the hackles rise on my neck, and my wallet pocket starts throbbing. Furtively, I pull my coat down to hide it! Cain’t let him see. Cain’t let him find out that I don’t CARE what they cost! I just have to have these wonderful little twisty paper things.
I try to put on my stupidest, semi-interested, inscrutable Westerner’s face, one big “huh?”
I like this guy. He seems a little hungrier than some of his nouveau-riche fireworks company compadres. And he did arrive on a motorcycle, not a fancy dancy new car. I can work with this guy. And yep, he IS willing to make them.
Pricing is put off for another day, to be haggled back and forth by Matt and the factory owner and me, based in part on quantity I agree to order, packaging, and other factors.
We shake hands, I toodle off, all satisfaction and afterglow, with Anne and my pals, and I offer to buy lunch for all, secure in my final victory that I have found the elusive Senko Hanabis and will finally be able to get them to my insatiable customers in the good ole US of A.
But if you want to tackle the intricate mysteries of making Senko Hanabi yourownself, you can read Ned Gorski’s article below on making them. They are tricky little devils, requiring a fine balance of potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur. And if you already have those three chemicals, you can do it easily with just a little tissue paper. Ned takes all the guesswork and hair pulling out of the process for you.
Chief Cook & Bottle Washer
|Senko Hanabi Sparklers, #NV0500||