Gifu festival gains overwhelming interest thank to presence of popular actor

Courtesy of the Gifu Nobunaga Festival executive committee
A poster for the Gifu Nobunaga Festival featuring popular actor Takuya Kimura

GIFU — As many as 960,000 people entered a lottery for access to free viewing spaces for the cavalry parade of the Gifu Nobunaga Festival — 64 times the available spots and nearly twice the population of the city itself.

No, it’s not that 16th-century warlord Oda Nobunaga is that popular. It’s that actor Takuya Kimura, who will be playing the role of Nobunaga, is.

The procession will be held on Nov. 6 through the heart of Gifu City. The deadline for the lottery was Oct. 20, and the city saw a deluge of entries from people wanting an up-close glimpse of the celebrity, who came to fame as a member of the former idol group SMAP. The city is planning to step up security to prevent problems such as an onrush of fans.

Nobunaga was based at Gifu Castle as he carried out a campaign to unify the country, and the festival that bears his name has a history of more than 60 years.

The parade will be held on the afternoon of the second day of the two-day festival. In addition to Kimura, Gifu native and fellow actor Hideaki Ito will appear as a Nobunaga vassal in the parade. The one-hour procession will amble down a 1-kilometer stretch of the city’s main thoroughfare of Kinkabashi Street. Sixteen viewing sections will be set up along the route, accommodating a total of 15,000 spectators.

The city announced on Sept. 28 that Kimura and Ito would be appearing in the parade and that it would start accepting entries for a lottery for access to the viewing sections. Entries from 966,555 people were received by the deadline.

There is also a talk show featuring Kimura and Ito scheduled for after the parade, for which about 800 people can be admitted. For that, there were 120,939 entries, 151 times the capacity.

According to the city, the 2009 festival, in which Ito played the role of Nobunaga, drew a total of about 500,000 visitors over the two-day event, but it appears that number will be exceeded this year.

A 51-year-old man who runs a fruit shop along the street said he expected the festival would “help make Gifu better known,” but added, “A lot of people will come and I’m worried that there could be trouble.”

The city government has set aside about ¥31.5 million in supplementary funds for security to prevent incidences, such as a mob stampede, and created the viewing sections on one side of the road.

Spectators who gained access through the lottery will not be allowed to move outside their designated section, and sidewalks along the route will be closed to prevent those who missed out on the drawing from staking out spots. To prevent users on the steps around JR Gifu Station from being knocked down like dominoes, a designated waiting area will be set up, from which spectators will be guided to the site in order.

“We appreciate getting responses from all over the country, but is also brings the risk of accidents and other problems,” Mayor Masanao Shibahashi said Wednesday at a safety meeting at City Hall. “Anyway, safety comes first.”