Quake-ravaged Noto Peninsula taps into its festival spirit

Six months after an earthquake wreaked destruction on Japan's Noto Peninsula, one man is hoping to boost spirits during the summer festival season. Many communities remain unable to celebrate, but in one part of Suzu City, book merchant Yagi Atsunari is ensuring that some elements of the seasonal festivities can bring people together.

Suzu's "festival guy"

For people residing in the Iida-machi district of Suzu City, July 20 and 21 are special days on the calendar. In a normal year, about 1,300 people celebrate the Iida-Toroyama festival, an event dating back 400 years that centers around a local shrine and features a giant float parade.

There are nine floats in total, including one for each of the eight neighborhood associations, and one 16-meter float.

Yagi, 50, is known as one of the "festival guys" in Iida-machi. He runs the Iroha bookstore, a business that has been in his family for three generations.

He describes the annual festival as a community imprint "as natural as breathing."

Yagi has been participating in the festival as long as he can remember.

Yagi moved to Tokyo after he graduated high school. He lived in the capital for about 20 years, but remained actively involved in Noto Peninsula events.

More than a bookstore

Yagi returned to Suzu City six years ago to help with the family business. The store and the family's second-floor residence were badly damaged in January's earthquake, but Yagi and his family were fortunate to escape injury.

The bookstore has been in business at the same location for 75 years.

Yagi is determined to rebuild. In the meantime, he and his family have rented out a local garage and got to work. He has been building doors and bookshelves, to make it feel right, and maintains it's important for the community to have places where people can come together.

Yagi studied design at a trade school. He has never worked in woodworking, but likes to make things by hand.

The locals are grateful. "The most important thing is that this store stays in our community," one customer says. "It's good to have a place like this to visit."

The festival spirit

Although the Iida-Toroyama festival parade has been cancelled, Yagi is making sure there are some elements of the event that people can enjoy.

He is part of a group that creates the traditional music that serves as a festival soundtrack.

The float of Yagi's district is about 8 meters high. Children ride on it and play the music.

Over the days that the festival normally takes place, Yagi is planning for the music to go on – and he'll be opening the doors of the float warehouse so that people can see what's inside.

He describes the floats as "irreplaceable treasures" and hopes the pared-down cultural celebrations will help people appreciate the importance of their community's survival.

"That's what makes the festival so valuable," says Yagi, adding the energy it can generate is what the region needs right now as it rebuilds and looks to the future.

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