Cultural agency to earmark ¥6.5 bil. in supplementary budget to preserve local festivals

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Decorated floats are seen during the Kawagoe Festival in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, in October 2019. The annual festival was canceled for the two straight year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

With local festivals and other traditional events facing a crisis amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Cultural Affairs Agency will earmark a total of ¥6.5 billion in a supplementary budget for fiscal 2021 to provide unusually large-scale assistance to preserve such traditions, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

According to sources, the agency plans to set up a consultation section to handle matters such as subsidies to repair floats, costumes and other equipment. The assistance is aimed at ensuring that traditional events, already plagued by a shortage of successors and regional depopulation, will continue.

The agency also plans to promote the use of digital technology to visually record such festivals in detail to pass down the nation’s festival traditions. It intends to publicize festivals across the nation by helping stream them online to entice people to attend in person after the pandemic is brought under control. Support will also be provided to train successors to hold traditional festivals.

So far, the agency has extended support mainly to festivals such as those designated as national important intangible folk cultural assets. However, the agency has decided to provide financial support regardless of whether such a designation has been made under the special circumstances brought about by the pandemic. The agency is considering allowing local governments to select candidate individuals and organizations to receive the assistance, the sources said.

According to a survey by the Japan Folk Performing Arts Association, more than 90% of about 60 folk performing arts organizations nationwide said that they had canceled their events or scaled them down or were affected in some other way by the pandemic during a period from February to July last year, when the infection situation worsened.

In October this year, the national association for the preservation of yama, hoko and yatai floats submitted a request to the agency for financial support, expressing concern that traditional skills will go into a decline or even die away if a lack of funds reduces the chances of repairing and preserving festival floats.

“By supporting traditional events and folk performing arts, we hope to restore the bonds of local communities that have lost [chances for social] interactions as well as to promote regional revitalization,” an agency official said.