Japan's tsunami-hit towns fight to sustain folk arts

Tue Aug 16, 2011 12:35pm EDT
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By Yoko Kubota

OFUNATO, Japan (Reuters) - The Urahama district of this northeastern Japanese coastal city had for centuries marked religious ceremonies, and mourned their dead, with a dynamic sword dance by masked men, accompanied by drums and flutes.

But everything changed after the March 11 tsunami tore into Japan's northeastern coast, sweeping away homes, performers and precious equipment in coastal areas, like Urahama, that had long treasured their traditional performing folk arts.

Now, people in many of the tightly-knit coastal communities fear the disaster may prove to be the final blow for some 100 troupes that had already been struggling to survive as the towns where they were based aged and young people left to seek work.

"There certainly will be some arts that are bound to disappear," said Shutaro Koiwa of Japan Folk Performing Arts Association in Tokyo.

Many performers are determined to go on despite the steep odds, cherishing their centuries-old traditions.

"In our area, it is a given," said 65-year-old Chikara Furumizu of the Urahama Nenbutsu Kenbai, a group of men and children that performs the sword dance to mourn the deceased in Ofunato, a city some 450 km northeast of Tokyo.

"Without it, we would not know what to do."

The dance had always been especially important during Obon, a period in August marked by Buddhist ceremonies to honor the ancestors. In Urahama, performances were staged in front of homes where a family member had died the previous year.   Continued...

<p>Child performers stand in front of tsunami debris as they prepare for a sword dance to mourn the victims of March 11's earthquake and tsunami at a devastated building in Ofunato, north of Japan, August 14, 2011, during Japan's annual Buddhist ceremony Obon that welcomes back the spirits of the dead. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon</p>