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Festival dance performed despite Tokushima gov't request to stop amid controversy

TOKUSHIMA -- Confusion and controversy over the traditional Awa Dance are shaking this western Japan city where the nationally famous event attracting more than 1 million spectators has turned into a bone of contention among local groups.

Famous groups of star dancers on Aug. 13 went ahead with what is called "so-odori," or gala dancing, despite an earlier decision by the Tokushima Municipal Government, the lead organizer this year of the summer festival, to cancel the particular performance.

Mayor Akiyoshi Endo, the chairman of the organizing committee comprising the city, local business groups and media companies, issued a statement critical of the move, saying that he "regretted" the performance was carried out while ignoring the organizing body's request. Endo had urged the backer of those groups, the local Awa Dance promotional association, to call off the performance. The association had been critical of the city's decision.

The municipal government canceled the popular so-odori dance event -- one of the most popular performances at the annual Awa Dance festival with over 1,000 dancers held every night -- on the grounds of improving the sale of tickets in other festival areas for the four-day dancing extravaganza ending Aug. 15. The decision came after one of the traditional organizers, the Tokushima City Tourism Association, had been found to be more than 400 million yen in debt last year.

The city explained that staging the gala dancing at just one location, as had been the case over the years, resulted in the concentration of paying spectators there and deprived other charging venues of potential customers. This year, the organizers planned to distribute famous groups of dancers to four venues in an attempt to balance out paying spectators.

(Japanese original by Kazuya Osaka, Tokushima Bureau)

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