A growing number of Japan's annual fireworks festivals are being forced to cancel due to funding shortages exacerbated by rising prices of materials and the pandemic-induced tourism downturn.
The pyrotechnic displays, a cherished summer staple in Japan drawing visitors from home and abroad, are very costly. Typically funded by both the public and private sectors, such events are increasingly difficult to hold due to a decrease in government subsidies and corporate sponsorships and donations.
A recent survey by Kyodo News revealed that at least 25 festivals had to be canceled this year, largely because of the high cost of fireworks materials and stronger security measures. More are expected to be canceled in the coming year and beyond.
As with many other fireworks shows that were put on hold amid COVID-19 pandemic, the Lake Biwa fireworks festival in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, resumed in August after a four-year hiatus.
Organizers have found it hard to solicit financial support from local firms and residents, as several businesses, especially in the lodging and dining sectors, shuttered when the pandemic hit the tourism industry.
Faced with a similar situation, the Onjuku Fireworks Festival in Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo, was canceled.
"Setting off 1,500 fireworks in just 30 minutes would cost over 5 million yen ($33,000)," Fumio Kissei, the head of the town's tourism association, said, urging diversification of tourism offerings beyond fireworks.
The Kasamatsu River Festival in Gifu Prefecture serves as yet another example of reduced financial backing from the local government. The fest has long relied on some 12 million yen in municipal funds, but due to the anticipated cost increases, organizers opted out this year.
To diversify revenues, some organizers, such as that of the Lake Biwa fireworks festival, have introduced paid seating, a strategy expanded for the Aug. 8 fireworks event.
But the festival has drawn controversy, with concerns raised over whether the paid seating system was fair. Local residents criticized the installation of four-meter-high fences that obstructed their view of fireworks.
Despite the challenges, some organizers are determined to continue the shows.
The renowned Sumida River Fireworks Festival in Tokyo made a comeback this summer for its 46th run and attracted a record-high 1.04 million people.
"We aim not only to continue this cherished event but also to showcase (this) Japanese tradition to foreign tourists who flock to the festival annually," a spokesman said.