While I have written about the Father of Japanese heavier-than-air aviation HERE (that's basically any aircraft with a motor), I have been remiss in researching the lighter-than-air side of Japanese aviation.
Thanks to the opening up of Japan's border's via the Japan Expedition (click HERE for a good rundown on the W5s), many technological marvels made their way to the country.
In 1877, Shimadzu Genzu Sr. (surname first) asked to build a large hydrogen-filled balloon by Harada Sennosuke (surname first) who worked for the Kyoto Educational Affairs Office.
Harada was himself asked to get a balloon by the governor of Kyoto, Makimura Masanao (surname first).
Why? Kyoto was reeling. In 1868, Kyoto was the capital of Japan, but by 1869 that honor was moved to Tokyo. In the years prior to that, war, fire, and economic hardship had plagued Kyoto making it a less-than-desireable city.
Makimura, was looking for ways to bring Kyoto out of its post-reformation doldrums, and, beginning in 1871 a month-long exhibition was held to aid the enlightenment and recovery of Kyoto.
So... fast-forwarding ahead to 1877 (again) Shimadzu built a balloon that was raised into the sky that became the talk of the town.
But it wasn't that easy a thing to do. Shimadzu, and his newly formed Shimadzu Corporation (formed in 1875, it was and is leading-edge company involved science and technologies in analytical and measuring instruments) had no clue how to build a balloon.
That's because no one in Japan had seen one before. Of course the French had been building balloons for 80 years now, but various attempts to construct one by the Japanese had met with abject failure.
So, armed only with an illustration of a balloon, Shimadzu went to work. He knew that a lighter-than-air gas - hydrogen - was used to make the balloon rise, but the main problems occurred with trying to determine how to keep the gas within a confined space that would not leak.
Japan did not have rubber yet available to it, so Shimadzu attempted to grind up konnyaku - that tasteless, gelatinous crap in every Japanese stew that is derived from a plant called devil's tongue. Shimadzu applied the konnyaku solution to paper and cotton fiber, but in both instances it was too heavy.
Knowing he had to get his hands on real rubber, Shimadzu did so, taking application of rubber dissolved in shiso (perilla) oil and applying that to a silk fabric. It worked.
On December 7, 1877, 48,000 people crammed into the Kyoto Sento Imperial Palace to see a manned balloon rise up to a height of 36 meters.
Who was the pilot? Who the hell knows. You think this would have been a big deal and I could easily find this out... perhaps it's listed in some Japanese history book, but I can't handily get my hands on this information.
It is said that the success of the balloon launch brought great fame to the Shimadzu Corporation, but without a doubt, it brought back a sense of pride to the people of Kyoto.
By the way... when researching this article - which surprisingly is not all that wide-spread with data - I found out that I discovered that in my hometown prefecture of Tochigi-ken, they actually held its first hot-air balloon race in 2012: The 2012 Tochigi Hot Air Balloon International Championship, that was held between November 20-25, 2012.
As for that whole - lots of information-thing on the Internet and social media stuff... I could not determine exactly WHERE the damn race takes place. Tochigi-ken is a province. Where in this province was the flight.
A website dedicated to the race can be found HERE. But where can one go to see what I assume will be a 2013 version?
Taken from that website is the photo above, proving once and for all that kismet isn't something that happens over the telephone - the photo was taken on November 8, 2012... my birthday.