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Japan's only circus school in Gunma Pref. closes due to decline in students

Sori International Circus School graduates perform during the school's final performance, in Midori, Gunma Prefecture, on July 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

MIDORI, Gunma -- Japan's only school teaching circus performances located in the mountains here temporarily closed the curtains on its show in late July, due to falling numbers of pupils dreaming of entering the spotlight.

    The Sori International Circus School was originally founded in September 2001 by Principal Keiichi Nishida, 74, and others involved in organizing circus performances, in hopes of helping circus culture gain a foothold in Japan. Although there have been about 60 graduates, the institution itself had been unable to get out of the red in recent years due to a steep drop in enrollment. Nishida plans to "reopen the school if enough students gather."

    The school building itself is the gymnasium of a former elementary school in the mountains of Midori, Gunma Prefecture. When Nishida was searching for a "quiet environment to concentrate on practice," an acquaintance residing in Gunma Prefecture who shared his dream of opening a school chose the site. As one of the instructors, they even beckoned Nadejda Tischtschenko, 65, who had the experience under her hat of winning the Acrobatic Gymnastics World Championships and previously teaching at the Ukrainian Circus Academy in Kiev, Ukraine.

    Students then gathered from all over the country, including the Kyushu region in southern Japan and the Kansai region in western Japan, to attend the four-year school. The enrollees made their own meals and lived in a nearby rental house while undergoing strict training.

    Instructor Nadejda Tischtschenko, of Ukraine, left, and Principal Keiichi Nishida thank the audience during the school's final performance, in Midori, Gunma Prefecture, on July 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

    Among the graduates, there are some who now work at theme parks and events in Japan, while others have moved on to perform in Europe. At one time, about 20 students were enrolled at the school, but as similar courses started being held across Japan, the numbers at the Gunma school dwindled down to only a few students.

    The school held a spectacular "final performance" locally on July 22, and a total of 13 students and graduates performed in front of an audience of about 200 people, who came from both within and outside of Gunma Prefecture to see the show.

    Yokohama juggler and street performer who goes by the stage name "Syuutyou," 46, a member of the school's inaugural graduating class, lamented, "This school has produced so many amazing performers. It's a shame that it had to suspend its classes."

    Nonprofit organization "International Circus Village Association," the operator of the school, will still offer trial lectures and hold other activities, and continue to accept new student applications.

    "The last 17 years are all filled with memories," instructor Tischtschenko commented, and expressed her will to teach again if the school can gather at least 10 students. "If there are students, I want to teach them so they can fulfill their dreams."

    (Japanese original by Naoki Sugi, Maebashi Bureau)

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