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Circus troupe takes anti-nuclear act on road

Chunichi Shimbun

A circus troupe led by Keiichi Nishida, founder of a street performance and circus training institution in Midori, Gunma Prefecture, has embarked on a tour to call for a nuclear-free Japan.

Nishida’s school had to be shut down temporarily to avoid the radioactive fallout emitted by the core meltdowns that wrecked the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in 2011, even though it was 170 km away.

So the 70-year-old performer decided to hook up a cart to his bicycle and take his five-member troupe across Japan to raise awareness of the dangers of atomic power.

Painted bright red and green, the troupe’s cart made a stop in Nagoya’s bustling Osu shopping district on May 9, attracting a crowd.

Dubbing themselves the Circus on a Bicycle Cart, the group initially set out from Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture on March 9, zigzagged south to Chiba and Tokyo, and is now heading west toward their final destination: Okinawa.

They travel between cities by car, but once within a city, they putter around in their bicycle-towed cart, displaying a banner that says “Genpatsu hantai” (No to nuclear power).”

Nishida is a circus industry veteran and sometimes invites foreign troupes to come to Japan.

In 2001, he established the Souri International Circus School inside a former elementary school in Gunma that had been abandoned due to radiation from Fukushima.

Decontamination work took six months, forcing the school to shut down and reducing its enrollment from 20 students to seven.

“Nuclear power is the worst public hazard. We don’t need it. Isn’t there anything else we can do other than circus performances?” Nishida began asking himself.

He decided to take action and travel the country to spread his message.

His graduates offer to help whenever Nishida stops in their hometowns.

“We don’t have any solution for the nuclear problem, but I feel it’s important to continue fighting for a nuclear-free country,” said Kenta, 28, a former student of Nishida’s from Nagano who has been traveling with the troupe since they left Nikko.

There’s no fixed route or arrival time, and everybody pitches in with earnings from their acts to fund the journey.

“We will do whatever we can, for as long as we are able to do so. Even if we have to crawl our way there with our cart,” Nishida said with a laugh.

The group recently joined a show hosted by Team Performance Lab in Nagoya on May 10. The entrance fee was ¥2,500, including drinks.

Then it was off to Nagano Prefecture to take part in a festival in a park in Minami Chitose the following day.

Visit Nishida’s Japanese-language blog, Kokusai Circus Mura — Soncho Nishi (which means “international circus village — diary of the village mayor”) at blogs.yahoo.co.jp/circusmura for a performance schedule.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on May 10.