Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Dying Fesitivals and Japanese Twisters

Sixty traditional folk events halted in rural Japan due to depopulation, aging

The Japan Times  Kyodo  Jan 4, 2017

People carry a giant float with multiple tiers of lanterns during the Tobata Gion festival in Kitakyushu on Dec. 4. While the festival is among the 33 recently added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, a lack of people to inherit traditions has led to the abolishment and suspension of many lesser-known local festivals across Japan. The Kitakyushu event, usually held in summer, was held last month to celebrate its UNESCO list inclusion. | KYODO

Sixty traditional festivals and dances in 20 prefectures designated by local governments as intangible folk culture assets have been ended or suspended due to population declines and the aging of rural communities, a survey has found.

The importance of folk culture assets has been underscored by the recent registration of 33 traditional festivals across Japan on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

On a local level, however, population aging and an exodus of young people to the cities have made it hard for many of these centuries-old traditions to be maintained.

According to the Cultural Affairs Agency, prefectural governments had named 1,651 events as intangible folk culture assets as of May 2016. Aside from these, 6,264 events have been designated as intangible folk culture assets by cities, towns and villages across the country. Some of these municipal-level festivals are small in scale and are believed to have been suspended or abolished already.

Of the 60, six traditional events in four prefectures have been discontinued, including kagura (shinto music and dance) in the city of Shiroi, Chiba Prefecture, kabuki-inspired shishimai (lion dance) in Gamagori, Aichi Prefecture, fishing manners and customs in Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, and tsue odori (stick dance) in Saiki, Oita Prefecture.

An official at the Chiba Prefectural Government said that rural communities are struggling to find people to inherit the traditions as their population grays and declines.

Meanwhile, 54 events in 17 prefectures have been suspended, including 11 in Kumamoto, eight each in Miyagi and Wakayama and four each in Chiba, Fukui and Nara.

Some prefectures have disclosed the number of suspended festivals but not their names, out of consideration for local residents who they said feel guilty for not being able to continue the events.

More and more communities are trying to keep these traditions alive by having children learn about them in school or inviting people outside the communities to participate.

Japan’s tornado warning system sees five-fold improvement

The Asahi Shimbun  by TAKASHI OGAWA/ Staff Writer January 4, 2017

A tornado forms in Tottori Prefecture in April 2007. (Provided by the Japan Meteorological Agency)

The Japan Meteorological Agency says its new tornado prediction system is five times more accurate than its predecessor and enables some warnings to be issued up to 30 minutes earlier.

Tornado forecasting is a difficult science. In only a few percent of cases in Japan, powerful gusts of wind actually occurred in areas where tornado warnings had been issued.

The agency has improved the accuracy of its Hazardous Wind Watch using the latest scientific findings and high-performance radars. Operations of the new system started in December.

Warnings are issued by the agency when tornadoes, downbursts and other types of hazardous gusts of wind are predicted to likely occur in certain regions based on the condition of cumulonimbus clouds and other factors.

Between 2011 and 2014, around 600 tornado warnings were issued annually, but their accuracy rate was very low.

In 2014, tornadoes formed in areas where the agency had issued warnings in only 2 percent of cases. This ratio is known as the accuracy rate.

In addition, tornado warnings had been issued in advance only in 27 percent of cases where powerful gusts of wind were reported. That rate is known as the capturing ratio.

Forecasting tornadoes is difficult because they are “a small-scale phenomenon,” according to the agency’s forecast department.

As tornadoes form quickly and affect limited areas, the conventional radar with a resolution of 250 meters by 250 meters cannot precisely monitor vortexes of air that cause a tornado to start churning, agency officials said.

Referring to the results of its past surveys, the agency created a model of how a vortex forms that allows it to predict more accurately where tornadoes will likely occur based on a vast amount of data on temperature, humidity and other factors.

The agency also uses weather data from the land ministry’s high-performance radars to detect signs of tornadoes more easily.

To test the accuracy of the new tornado forecast system, data gathered between April 2012 and September 2014 was inputted into the system.

The results showed the accuracy rate improved from 3 percent to 14 percent under the new system, while the capturing ratio rose from 40 percent to 70 percent.

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