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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Asia

Aging Japanese village strives to keep traditions alive

The Japan News/ANN | Sunday, May 4, 2014

Masao Mitsuki stands on a mountain slope where dogtooth violets have begun to bloom. "I became a guide when the festival was first held," he said in the Mukuruma district of Nanmoku, Gunma Prefecture.

NANMOKU, Gunma - Residents of this small village are trying to protect their local traditions and culture as the population continues to decrease-according to a government estimate based on the latest census, there will be just 702 people in Nanmoku in 2040, or 30 per cent of its current population.

Various flowers bloom in this mountainous village in April. Many tourists come to see the dogtooth violets that grow in clusters on slopes in the Mukuruma district of Nanmoku.

In early April this year, about 100,000 dogtooth violets covered about 4,000 square meters of the mountainside. However, the annual Mukuruma Katakuri Komichi Festival was not held this year.

On April 2, Masao Mitsuki, 87, was talking with visitors in an area where dogtooth violets had begun to bloom. When asked by one of the people who had come to the district to look at the flowers, "Aren't you going to hold the annual festival this year?" Mitsuki answered, "Everyone has become old and there're no young people [who can organise the festival] in the village."

The festival was launched about 20 years ago by a group of local volunteers called Mukuruma Muraokoshi Hana no Kai (Flower association for vitalizing Mukuruma).

During the weeklong festival, as many as 16,000 people visited the village.

However, the number of people living in the Mukuruma district has dropped to 132 from the 270 figure when the community started to hold the festival.

With the number of people who could organise the festival decreasing, the association was dissolved in December last year and this year's festival was cancelled.

Its former members are now mainly in their 70s and 80s. Although there are 79 names on the association's list, there are only about 15 people who can participate in activities such as preparing a trail for visitors.

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