Sixty traditional folk events halted in rural Japan due to depopulation, aging

Kyodo

Sixty traditional festivals and dances in 20 prefectures designated by local governments as intangible folk culture assets have been ended or suspended due to population declines and the aging of rural communities, a survey has found.

The importance of folk culture assets has been underscored by the recent registration of 33 traditional festivals across Japan on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

On a local level, however, population aging and an exodus of young people to the cities have made it hard for many of these centuries-old traditions to be maintained.

According to the Cultural Affairs Agency, prefectural governments had named 1,651 events as intangible folk culture assets as of May 2016. Aside from these, 6,264 events have been designated as intangible folk culture assets by cities, towns and villages across the country. Some of these municipal-level festivals are small in scale and are believed to have been suspended or abolished already.

Of the 60, six traditional events in four prefectures have been discontinued, including kagura (shinto music and dance) in the city of Shiroi, Chiba Prefecture, kabuki-inspired shishimai (lion dance) in Gamagori, Aichi Prefecture, fishing manners and customs in Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, and tsue odori (stick dance) in Saiki, Oita Prefecture.

An official at the Chiba Prefectural Government said that rural communities are struggling to find people to inherit the traditions as their population grays and declines.

Meanwhile, 54 events in 17 prefectures have been suspended, including 11 in Kumamoto, eight each in Miyagi and Wakayama and four each in Chiba, Fukui and Nara.

Some prefectures have disclosed the number of suspended festivals but not their names, out of consideration for local residents who they said feel guilty for not being able to continue the events.

More and more communities are trying to keep these traditions alive by having children learn about them in school or inviting people outside the communities to participate.