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Hope sparks for Japan fireworks industry as home product demand rises

Fireworks light up the sky at the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival, in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, in 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Nagaoka Fireworks Foundation/Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's fireworks industry is seeing sparks of hope as annual public pyrotechnics displays gradually return and demand for children's fireworks from families staying home amid the coronavirus pandemic rises.

    The increasingly buoyant mood comes after two years of virus restrictions blocking summer shows, and as the sector also faces falling domestic manufacturer numbers and increasingly strong regulation in major exporter China.

    A traditional art form, their general use began in the Edo period (1603-1868). However, records show they were seen by public figures even earlier including Tokugawa shogunate founder Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616).

    Fireworks are broadly split into two categories, the launching types typically seen at shows, and children's fireworks such as sparklers.

    Domestic production of the latter has fallen since the 1960s due to safety concerns over accidents and cost-cutting shifts to manufacturing in China, according to Kensaku Nose, senior director at the International Cooperation of Children's Fireworks.

    The shift to China and normalization of relations with the country in 1972 meant that in recent years, some 90 percent of children's fireworks purchased in Japan were made in China.

    But factors including tougher regulations in response to accidents at factories and soaring raw materials costs have seen imports from China fall to a third of their 1997 peak, when fireworks worth some $28 million came to Japan. The falling child population has also shrunk the domestic market.

    While the industry had expected the downturn to keep going, local manufacturers and wholesalers have been feeling positive off the back of increased demand from families staying home amid the pandemic.

    "It's ironic, but I hope that being at home gives people a chance to discover the appeal of fireworks," Nose said.

    Fireworks displays were inextricably linked to Japan's summer festivals, but many have been canceled since 2020 over concerns of people gathering closely in the same space.

    This year, however, has seen events go ahead with infection prevention measures in prefectures including Hokkaido, Akita, Niigata and Shizuoka.

    Some organizers are even eschewing the traditional summer timeframe to hold pyrotechnics events in the spring or fall, a move welcomed by Haruyuki Kono from the Japan Pyrotechnics Association.

    "I hope that in future we can cement the idea of fireworks as year-round events," he said.

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