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LED castle keep made with $190K virus subsidy draws criticism in west Japan

The "virtual Tokushima Castle keep," made of LEDs, is seen in the city of Tokushima on Jan. 22, 2021. (Mainichi/Ayane Matsuyama)

TOKUSHIMA -- The municipal government in this western Japan city is facing criticism from some residents over its use of national coronavirus-related subsidies to recreate a castle keep with LEDs.

    The recreated virtual keep of Tokushima Castle, made with scaffolding and LEDs, has been lit up at Aibahama Park in the city every evening since Jan. 21, aiming "to develop an atmosphere that creates momentum for the Awa Odori dance festival and to invigorate the local economy." The entire cost of the 20-million-yen (about $190,000) project was covered by extraordinary regional revitalization grants provided by the central government to counter the coronavirus. However, some citizens have expressed skepticism about the appropriateness of using this money for the project, citing its lack of connection to the coronavirus crisis.

    According to the city's economic policy department and other officials, the "virtual Tokushima Castle keep" -- standing 10 meters high with three floors, and measuring 13 meters in both length and width -- is lit up with some 70,000 LED light bulbs. The actual keep, said to have been located in the Higashi Ninomaru area of the castle grounds, does not exist anymore, so the structure was recreated based on the plans preserved at the Tokushima Castle Museum.

    The LEDs are being switched on every evening between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. until Feb. 19, and pictures, footage and messages related to the Awa Odori dance are projected on a 2.8-meter x 5-meter screen installed on the stone wall.

    Tokushima Mayor Sawako Naito's post on Facebook about the project on Jan. 17 drew a series of critical comments, such as, "I want events to be held with great fanfare after the pandemic has subsided rather than have taxpayers' money spent on events that will attract crowds (now)," and "Couldn't the money have been spent on other things like caring for and supporting people?" Naito responded, "It supports those who are involved in the project," and "The prefectural economy's scars will worsen if we cancel everything, so we need the strong will to move forward with what we can do."

    A 58-year-old woman who operates an eatery in the city commented, "There are many people suffering due to the coronavirus, and I wanted the city to spend money to support people."

    Other residents, however, stood by the virtual castle. A 78-year-old resident of the city who was visiting Aibahama Park to see the LED keep commented, "It's good to have an event like this because this park is dark and quiet."

    According to the website of the Cabinet Office's Office for Promotion of Regional Revitalization, the government's extraordinary regional revitalization grants can be used freely by local governments as long as their projects are aimed at responding to the coronavirus. A total of 3 trillion yen for such grants has been secured in the first and second supplementary budgets this fiscal year, but criticism has emerged of local governments' proposals to allocate the money to exhibitions and monuments barely related to the coronavirus.

    (Japanese original by Ayane Matsuyama, Tokushima Bureau)

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