Preserving a cultural tradition in Tokushima

FUJIMOTO Takatsugu lives in Koyadaira, Mima, a quiet village near the centre of Tokushima Prefecture, surrounded by mountains that are 1,500m high.

Over 6,500 people use to live in the old village in 1955 but changes in local industries have caused many families to leave, and the population has dwindled to about 570, which is less than a tenth of what it used to be.

In the past, the region supplied a hemp fabric called aratae, which since ancient times has been an indispensable part of the great imperial succession ceremony.

To save this tradition from extinction, Fujimoto gained the support of the regional community and formed a non-profit organisation. In July 2017, thanks to many supporters, a bamboo palisade was built around the field where the hemp grows, and the field is placed under 24-hour observation after planting.

The difficult process of making the fabric, from retting to weaving, was completed with the help of local residents, and in the following year the aratae was presented to the halls of the Daijokyu, where the next emperor would be enthroned.

"As the representative of my region, I will carry our fellowship, nature, and historic culture together with the Olympic torch for all of Japan to see," Fujimoto said.

What are the good aspects of the Kodaira region of Mima City?

Although it’s an region of elderly people, where most residents are over 60 years old, we are still working to revitalise the area. Every year, many people participate in river clean-up events, which started to protect the environment, and are now held every May. As a result, the area received an award for having the best water quality in Japan.

Tell us about the aratae tradition.

Aratae is a hemp fabric that is offered in a sacred rite at the Yukiden and Sukiden halls during the Daijosai, the imperial enthronement ceremony. There is literature to show that it was presented to six generations of emperors, from Kameyama, during the Kamakura period (1185–1333,) to Komyo. It was revived for the enthronement of the Emperor Taisho, and the tradition has continued ever since.

Why and when did you become involved with aratae? And when did you decide to protect the tradition?

I was always interested in history, and I had been studying about aratae. Then amidst this, in 2016, the reigning emperor declared his intention to abdicate and realising that it was necessary to continue the aratae tradition and pass it on to the next generation, I decided to undertake this ambitious project.

How would you like to see Mima City’s Koyadaira region change in the years to come? And how would you like to contribute to that future?

Our region is blessed with both nature and culture. We have aratae and its history; the Anabuki river, which is the clearest river in Japan; and Mount Tsurugi, the second tallest mountain in western Japan. I hope that a tourist route will be established in the future to link these three places, and I would like to do something to develop the region and make it a place where people can enjoy the abundant natural environment.

Tell us what you want to tell everyone as a torchbearer, and what you are excited about.

Our aratae provision work coincided with the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and by a miraculous twist of fate I was chosen to be a torchbearer. I would like to inspire people to tell my grandchildren about how their grandfather executed an historic undertaking, and then as a 65-year-old was chosen to be the runner in something people only dream of.