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Editorial: Preserving folkdances to reforge bonds needed for true 3.11 disaster recovery

Dancers in a circle move to the sounds of taiko drums and flutes, praying for a bountiful harvest. This is the "taue odori" (rice planting dance), a folkdance that has been passed down from generation to generation in the Tsushima district of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, for more than 200 years.

The district, however, remains under the evacuation order issued seven years ago, when three reactors at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant melted down in the wake of the tsunami generated by the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. So in January this year, a Fukushima Prefecture-based nonprofit organization compiled videos of the taue odori so the traditional dance could be passed down to later generations.

The dance is one example of a number of traditional performing arts and festivals from the 3.11 disaster zones that could be in danger of disappearing. True recovery cannot be accomplished just by building roads and houses. Local folk performances and other forms of intangible culture have the power to help reforge community bonds strained or shattered by the catastrophe that struck Tohoku's shores seven years ago.

Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima -- the prefectures worst hit by the disasters -- are said to be home to a total of more than 2,000 folk entertainments. Of these, nearly 800 have lost successors to keep them going, or the shrines and items related to the performance arts have been damaged or destroyed. Reviving the traditions would thus cost large sums, leading many communities to abandon them.

Moves to support these traditions' survival was quick in coming. On March 23, 2011 -- less than two weeks after the quake and tsunami -- the Association for Corporate Support of the Arts established the Great East Japan Earthquake Restoration Fund (GBFund), a corporate and individual donation-backed effort to foster arts and culture in the disaster zone.

Other foundations and universities also filmed and photographed Tohoku arts to preserve them, and poured effort into training people to carry on the traditions. So, there are some success stories.

Traditional performing arts are a comfort to those who lost loved ones to the 3.11 disasters, and give them the strength to keep on living. It seems that there are many survivors who have realized once more how valuable these traditions are.

Disaster recovery is not easy. One needs no further proof of this than the folk entertainments of coastal Fukushima Prefecture after the dual assault of tsunami and nuclear crisis. Before 3.11, there were some 350 such traditional art forms in this region. The disaster halted about 210 of them, of which around 70 have been revived. However, there is no guarantee that these will survive into the future.

According to one nonprofit group supporting these traditions, it is becoming harder year after year to gather residents of disaster-struck communities, as many dispersed across Japan in the nuclear crisis evacuation and eventually built homes in their new municipalities.

Nevertheless, there are many people longing to revive local performance arts. One executive of the nonprofit group said an elderly woman whose home had been washed away in the tsunami had told them in no uncertain terms that she dearly wanted the Shinto "Kagura" song and dance to survive.

We hope for the creation of a program to spread news of the greatness of local folk entertainments far and wide and to entice people from all over Japan to come and see them. Lasting support is needed for true disaster recovery.

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