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Nagasaki Kunchi

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Dances featuring dragons are some of the most exciting at the festival.

Nagasaki Kunchi is a festival that's held from October 7 to 9 at Suwa Shrine in the city of Nagasaki, the capital of the prefecture of the same name. Nagasaki is located in northwestern Kyushu and is the westernmost prefecture on the main islands of Japan. The festival has a history that goes back some 380 years, and it's been designated an "important intangible folk asset" by the Japanese government.


The festival is put on by the 77 "dance communities" that were established in 1672. The 11 neighborhoods that organize the festival are divided into seven dance groups each, with each group taking turns putting on the festival. Since each group has its own distinctive floats and dances, it takes at least seven years to see all variations of the festival. This is what makes this festival so rich and exciting.


You need a ticket for seats near the central stage, but there's a long hill with 73 stone steps leading to Suwa Shrine along which people can stand for free. Since it's one of the best places to view the festival, fans start showing up the day before to save a good spot. Some people even camp out two nights to get the very best places.


Nagasaki Kunchi

The festival begins in the early morning hours of October 7 when the colorful floats and dancing of five dance groups are featured. The highlight is a dance of a dragon chasing a golden ball performed to music played with ancient Chinese instruments. Spectators yell out "Motte koi" when they want an encore. The shape of the dragon and the costumes of the dancers have a Chinese feel to them; this is because Nagasaki imported many artifacts from China as Japan's only port of foreign trade during the Edo period (1603-1867).