”ROAD Project” to Help Rebuild Tohoku

Kamaishi’s Tiger Dance: Old Dance Offers New Hope for the Future

Festivals and other traditional events play an important role in building communities and keeping them together. With the aim of preventing a breakdown of communities in earthquake- and tsunami-stricken areas, the Nippon Foundation’s ROAD Project established the Traditional Arts Relief Fund (“Festival Fund”) to provide assistance for traditional performances and festivals in Tohoku.


A Gift from the Nippon Music Foundation

Photo of “Lady Blunt” violin, made by Antonio StradivariusThe money for the Traditional Arts Relief Fund came from the Nippon Music Foundation, which sold a valuable “Lady Blunt” violin, made by Antonio Stradivarius in 1721, at a London auction in June 2011. The violin sold for a record $15.9 million (¥1.2 billion), and the proceeds were donated to the Nippon Foundation to establish the fund.

Mizue Masukata, a member of the Nippon Foundation’s Community Support Team, explains how the decision on the fund was made: “At the time, emergency relief was no longer necessary, so we decided to shift our focus to a cultural program, since the source of the donation was a violin. That’s how the Festival Fund got started.”

Photo of Kamaishi’s Tiger Dance

Strengthening the Fabric of the Community

Known as a treasure trove of folk art, Tohoku boasts a large number of unique festivals, all of which have played an important role in bringing communities together. Although these festivals were cherished and longstanding traditions, they were in danger of being called off after the earthquake and tsunami because of damage to the costumes, decorations, and other objects. The Nippon Foundation wanted to do something to prevent this from happening. It decided to use the know-how and experience it had acquired in administering its programs to pass down traditional arts to the younger generation. Toward this end, the foundation conducted a survey to determine what support was necessary, and chose the Kamaishi Tiger Dance Preservation Society as the first organization to assist.

Masukata explains the reason for this decision: “Many people told us they don’t dance the tiger dance because they happen to live in Kamaishi, but rather that they live in Kamaishi because of the tiger dance. Clearly they felt that without the tiger dance, people would move away from the area. At the same time, our goal was not simply to help festivals be staged but to provide assistance for festivals as a way of rebuilding communities. That’s why we chose Kamaishi.”

Photo of a crowd gathered for the Kamaishi Summer Harbor Festival held on July 17, 2011, where a Tiger Dance was held amidst remaining piles of rubble from the earthquake.

Since then, the Festival Fund has provided assistance for the purchase of the supplies to protect the legacy of traditional arts in various locations. It has also supported the revitalization of crafts in stricken areas, because such crafts are generally produced on a limited scale in specific locations. As of April 2012, it provided a total of ¥323.9 million to 15 organizations for the repair or purchase of costumes, Japanese drums, portable shrines, and floats.

The second phase of the fund, which is now underway, aims to revive the groves around Shinto shrines that were destroyed by the tsunami. Shrines have a special place in the hearts of people as places of repose and as venues for festivals and other events. They also serve as natural levees, which can safeguard people in the event of an earthquake or tsunami. Regenerating these forests, it is hoped, will in turn lead to the revival of communities.


Video by Shogo Kido
Photographs by Hisayoshi Osawa