IIZUKA, Fukuoka – Happy Dream Circus, now being held at a former fish market site in this southwest Japan city, will remain there until the end of February 2021 as performances have been postponed and events have repeatedly been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic since they set up their tents there in April.
A circus usually performs for two to three months in one place, visiting around four locations per year, so an 11-month stay in a single location is out of the ordinary. The Mainichi Shimbun asked the circus, in which 80% of the performers and staffers are foreigners, about their life in Japan amid the pandemic.
Roosevelt Valencia Santander, a 30-year-old Colombian who is a professional clown in the circus, has been holding Spanish language lessons every Friday evening at an international exchange center in front of the former residence of Edo period industrialist Ito Denemon in the city of Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture. He uses simple Japanese and repeats Spanish sentences like “Que hora es?” (What time is it?) to teach the language.
The exchange center was established in September 2019 by Hisashi Muta, a resident of Iizuka who was transferred to Spain when he was still working as an office employee. He aimed to invite foreign students so people could learn about their cultures. The 73-year-old happened to come across Santander in May during a stroll and spoke to him in Spanish.
“I heard he didn’t have work because of the coronavirus, so I suggested that if he had time, he could come over and teach Spanish,” Muta recalled. The Muta family got close to the Santander family, and they now pick weeds at the center together. The families also dine together.
Happy Dream Circus is operated by Osaka-based Dream Circus, established in 2001 by 60-year-old chairman Koichi Maeda, who performed in a Chinese acrobatic team for 10 years. The troupe’s roughly 40 members include about 25 performers — hailing from Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Ukraine and five other countries. They came to Iizuka for the event in the Chikuho area. The circus was originally due to stage performances from April 18 to July 6, but they were postponed and held from July 10 to Sept. 22. The number of spectators at each performance was limited to half, or about 370 people, and as result, the circus was dealt a significant financial blow as it attracted only around 9,000 people in total, or a mere 20% of its target amount…
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