National / Social Issues

Japan’s traditional festivals struggling with financial difficulties

JIJI

Traditional festivals are having a more difficult time securing financing for their events these days.

In the city of Tokushima, famed for its traditional Awa Odori folk dance festival, attendance hit a record low this year, partly due to confusion over financing. And similar stories are emerging from Kyushu to Hokkaido.

“We’ve managed to generate profits,” said Taku Okuno, a member of the organizing committee for the Yosakoi Soran Festival held in early summer in Hokkaido.

While the festival’s costs, including for security, are rising because of the expanding scale of the events, the organizer hasn’t received any public subsidies and struggled to raise funds this year. The sponsors change almost annually.

“Although we don’t aim to make profits, we’re fighting every year,” Okuno said.

The situation is similar for the Nagasaki Kunchi, a festival dating back nearly 400 years as part of rituals at Suwa Shrine. Each district in the city needs to secure about ¥30 million each year to cover the cost of the Shinto floats and other items used in the dedicatory dance by the shrine’s parishioners.

An official of a group that aims to promote the traditional performing arts of Nagasaki said residents are struggling to gather funds for Nagasaki Kunchi.

Some who have moved outside the prefecture are no longer interested and thus reluctant to contribute money to the festival, the official said, adding that securing funds has only gotten tougher.

In the meantime, an association that organizes the Gion Festival in Kyoto began resorting to crowdfunding in 2017. It procured more than ¥13 million in 2017 and over ¥4 million this year. Both figures had surpassed their targets.

On its website, the association calls on people to “cooperate for the project, and feel the excitement and elegance of the festival.”

At the Aomori Nebuta Festival in Aomori Prefecture, ticket prices for spectator seats were raised by some 15 percent to ¥3,000 in 2017 because of declining sales and rising labor costs.

“Passing down what our predecessors did is our duty,” a member of the festival’s executive committee said as justification for the price hike. “We want to cherish the tradition.”