Japan economy: Fireworks provide much-needed boost

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe season for fireworks displays is under way in Japan, but it is becoming more expensive for taxpayers

There are three things that, above all others, say: "Summer in Japan" - shaved ice, cicadas and fireworks.

Each year, millions of people gather to watch fireworks displays at river embankments across the country.

The first, arranged by the government in 1733 along the Sumida River, which flows through the eastern part of the capital Tokyo, was part of a spiritual festival to comfort the souls of the hundreds of thousands of people who had died following food shortages and a cholera epidemic.

People still shout the family names of two pyrotechnicians, Tamaya and Kagiya, who played a major role in the development of fireworks in Japan. But these days, it is more about families and friends getting together.

On Saturday, more than 20,000 fireworks were set off along the Sumida River, and nearly a million people gathered to watch.

Seasonal charm

"It's our first time to come to the event," said teenagers Saki Kawate, Natsuki Harai, Sachi Goto and Miki Yoshino.

"We got dressed in yukata to put spirit into it."

Japan's traditional summer clothing, yukata add a seasonal charm to the event.

Department store Takashimaya has already seen a 10% rise in yukata sales compared with last year when many people refrained from festivities following the earthquake and tsunami in March.

It is not cheap to host the free event, however.

A number of municipal governments contribute, along with private sponsors.

"It costs roughly 150m yen ($1.9m; £1.2m) each year," said Toru Yokokura, from the organising committee.

"If you combine the money from Tokyo metropolitan government as well as Taito and Sumida wards, they are funding about two-thirds of it."

That is 100m yen of taxpayers' money spent on one night.

But the organisers say it is worth it.

"It definitely stimulates the local economy," Mr Yokokura said.

Chilled drinks

On Saturday night, streets and embankments were packed, and police officers were directing the crowd.

Image caption Small businesses benefit from increased sales during the fireworks festival

Thanks also to the hot weather, they spent money on food and chilled drinks.

"We made more than $2,000 tonight, which is our record," said Minori Yamaguchi, from a corner store selling Japan's festival favourites - fried noodle yakisoba and shaved ice.

"There seem to be more people this year thanks to the Skytree," he added.

The Skytree is the world's tallest broadcasting tower and Tokyo's latest attraction.

More than 90,000 people applied for one of the 750 available viewing spots inside the tower, which cost 4,000 yen each.

The spectacle lasted for less than two hours - but the memories, and the economic effects felt among local businesses, will linger long after the gunpowder, smoke and sparkles have cleared.

More on this story