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Lively autumn 'Nagasaki Kunchi' festival events canceled over coronavirus outbreak

This photo taken on Oct. 7, 2019 shows the Nagasaki Kunchi festival underway at Suwa Shrine in the city of Nagasaki as crowds look on. (Mainichi/Minoru Kanazawa)

NAGASAKI -- The Hono-Odori dance and portable shrine procession of the Nagasaki Kunchi festival, a lively festival held each autumn, will be canceled this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, officials have decided.

The festival, which features a popular dragon dance, is held annually at Suwa Shrine in the southwestern Japan city of Nagasaki from Oct. 7 to 9, and is designated by the national government as an important intangible cultural folk asset, having a history of some 380 years.

It will be the first time in 32 years for the dancing to be canceled -- the last time being in 1988 due to the deteriorating health of Emperor Showa. Organizers reached their decision on this year's event following discussion on April 12.

In the festival, districts in Nagasaki known as "odori-cho" oversee the lively dancing on a rotational basis, with their turn coming around once every seven years. As a result of this year's cancellation, the performers that were originally slated to take on the role this year will get their turn next year.

Practice sessions for the dances were originally due to start in June. But Takeyasu Ikeda, the chief priest of Suwa Shrine, indicated in a news conference that this would be difficult.

"Because trainings take place in confined spaces, crowded places and with close contact between people, it would be difficult to protect people's health and lives," he said. Ikeda added, "Following the atomic bombing of Nagasaki (in 1945) and the Nagasaki flood (of 1982), restoration began thanks to the Hono-Odori. The cancellation is disappointing, but we want to pour all the more effort into the event next year."

(Japanese original by Atsuki Nakayama, Nagasaki Bureau)

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