A traditional folk entertainment ‘Nenbutsu-Kenbai in Urahama’ continues its performance

By Kikki - Last updated: 木曜日, 5月 26, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

[From Ofunato city-my stricken home town]

-Great East Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Disaster-


‘Buddhist Sword Dance’ in Urahama Community, Sanriku Town

The city of Ofunato has inherited various folk entertainments in every community. Parties that have performed traditional arts peculiar to a locality also suffered heavy damage from the East Japan Great Earthquake and Tsunami. Although, a preservation organization for ‘Nenbutsu-Kenbai’ in Urahama community, Sanriku town lost almost all tools and costumes from the disaster, members are trying to recover their feet. Urahama-Nenbutsu-Kenbai’ or a Buddhist style sword dance in Urahama community has been designated as an intangible cultural folk asset by Iwate prefecture.

The sword dance is characterized by holding of memorial service for a departed soul. ‘It is an exact time for performing ‘Nenbutu-Kenmai. We have to come to life again.’ Mr. Tsutomu Furumizu (65) firmly determined. The Buddhist Sword Dance has been quite popular in Kesen area. It is one of folk entertainments that have a sprit of requiem or holding of memorial service for a departed soul and therefore it is usually performed during the Bon festival in August every year. The sword dance has been performed at local temples and in front of the private houses where someone in the family passed away within a year. The traditional folk entertainment had become extinct in decades, however, a young men’s association in Urahama community made restoration in 1972. Mr. Furumizu played a key role in the work. Characteristic local dance has been continued its performances over 40 years since then, even sometimes faced to crisis of discontinued.

On March 11, Mr. Furumizu was working at the Kitasato University in Okirai, Sanriku town as usual. The university is located in rather high ground so there were no direct damages from the tsunami. ‘I could not know how my community was damaged, because I had no way to communicate.’ The town was utterly destroyed by the tsunami disaster, but he could see it only the following day. All 50 members of folk dancers escaped unhurt, but its storage house was washed away with all tools and costumes, such as masks, drums, flutes, and swords.

Later, only 8 masks in total 17 masks were found randomly, and especially, a mask for main character ‘Sasara’ was still missing. Two pieces of sword were also found. Luck of tools and costumes are not their main problem. ‘We may perform our dance without masks. Substitute costumes can be prepared for temporary use. Most important thing is our determination for restoration.’  Mr. Furumizu expressed and continued. ‘Even, some members think that we must forget about such a local folk entertainment at this difficult time. However, we must start from scratch. Otherwise we won’t be able to reconstruct our community.’ He carefully wiped existing masks clean and tries to carve new masks. Associated folk entertainment group in Tokyo will also support their activity. ‘We never give up and really like to perform our sword dance under any circumstances this summer.’ His determination is very firm.



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