Tokushima, one of Shikoku’s four prefectures, is not only famous for their Sudachi and sweet potatoes (the list could go on) but also for Awa Odori. It is the biggest dance festival in the country which is also participated by different dance groups, known as ren, all over Japan.
I’m pretty sure it’s best to see this festival in action. So I made a video to showcase the best of what I experienced.
Awa Odori (阿波おどり) is held during the Obon season from 12th to 15th of August. Awa is the former name of Tokushima while Odori means dance. It has been a tradition of more than 400 years.
Every year, over a million tourists, go to Tokushima to participate in the splendor of pure Awa festivity. For four nights, the streets are filled with colorful costumes and traditional folk music taking us back to Awa’s rich “drunken past”.
Awa Odori dates back to 1580s when Hachisuka Iemasa, a daimyou or feudal lord during the Edo period wanted to commemorate the opening of Tokushima Castle. After too much booze has been consumed, townsfolk began to form a parade through the streets in their drunken state whilst singing, dancing, and playing music. It sure is an interesting story to believe in but one thing is for sure, alcohol can take you places. This festival is the perfect receipt for that.
The dance is accompanied using traditional Japanese instruments that have been long used for traditional Bon dances: shamisen (Japanese stringed instrument), flutes, drums, and bells. The dancers often chant, “Yattosa, Yattosa” or “Yoi, Yoi, Yoi, Yoi” having generally no literal translation or semantics but it’s about giving encouragement to fellow dancers. As the dancers and people parade in the streets enjoying the festivity, they often break out by singing the famous Awa Odori song known as Awa Yoshikono with lyrics that goes,
Odoru ahou ni, miru ahou, onaji ahou nara, odorana son, son
The dancers are fools, the watchers are fools, both are fools, so why not dance?
In brief, they are inviting people to dance with them because, why not?!
The men dance wearing happi (a yukata but shorter) and tabi footwear, in a low posture with knees and feet pointing outward. They often carry festival lanterns with them as well.
The women wear kimono, a distinctive taco-shaped hat called amigasa which is made out of woven straw, and wooden geta sandals that make their feet lean forward all the time and their heels not touching the ground.
In Awa Odori, your hands and arms should be above your shoulder while dancing. This is quite interesting since traditional dancing styles in Japan emphasize downward movement while Awa Odori is upward oriented.
But whatever movement you do, you will never be an outcast in the crowd. Who thinks what dance to do when they’re drunk, right?