#3521

Dance Like Fools

Awaodori

Awaodori is a dance that is performed in summer festivals throughout Japan, but originating in Tokushima Prefecture in the southwestern island of Shikoku. Shikoku is one of the four main islands of Japan, but the one that is often forgotten, because it does not have a major city like Fukuoka or Nagasaki in Kyushu, or Sapporo in Hokkaido. The biggest city in Shikoku is in Kagawa Prefecture, Takamatsu, the 41st most populous city in Japan. Tokushima City is the 3rd of 3 cities in Shikoku in the list of the top 100 and at 86 is not very high on that list.

Yet, despite its lack of population, Tokushima is the source of one of Japan's major festival traditions. In fact, the name Awaodori itself is based on the feudal period name for Tokushima, Awa. Odori, meaning dance, completes the name, which is what the dance is called throughout Japan.

The Awaodori, though the dancer's wear costumes that are not unlike those worn throughout Japan's many festivals and is danced to music played on common shamisen lutes, taiko drums, shinobue flutes, and kane bells, is extremely distinctive. Not only the dance itself, but the distinctive songs (chants, really) are enticing, charming, and fun. What the dancers are chanting (there are some minor variations), however, is quite wonderful:

Odoru ahou ni The dancers are fools
Miru ahou The watchers are fools
Onaji ahou nara Both are fools so
Odorana son, son Just dance (or miss out)

Koenji Awaodori

The Koenji Awaodori is one of several that are held in Tokyo and one of many held throughout Japan. It has been celebrated now for 58 years, so the Koenji Awaodori has a tradition that makes it a huge event in its own right. In fact, with around 1.2 million revelers enjoying the celebration each year, it rivals some of Tokyo's biggest annual events. The crowds, for the most part, remain on the sidelines. However, as the dance troupes march through the many town squares, many of the watchers heed the calls of the dancers and join in the reverie, becoming fools together.

Koenji is in the Tokyo Ward of Suginami. With a population of more than half a million people, it is one of Tokyo's most populous. Still, it is very unlikely that the Koenji area itself has more than, say, one-tenth of Suginami's total population. Yet, with more than 500,000 people visiting during each day of the Awaodori, it is amazing that there is any room at all to watch the dance. However, it is even more amazing that Tokushima's own event attracts around 1.3 million tourists each year, allowing it to remain the oldest and largest. For a city with less than 300,000 residents, this is no small feat.

The men and women who perform in awaodori make a series of similar steps, drawing triangles in the air with their hands, but with different postures. The women tend to be more upright, while the men crouch low to the ground and gyrate more. Some of the men dance in wild gyrations, reminding me of whirling dervishes of Persian origins.

Beauty and Power

The things that make the Awaodori the most attractive are its beauty and power. The beauty is quite obvious. The costumes, the elegant dance, and the young women are gorgeous.

The power in the music, the rhythms, twirling hands, and constant gyrations in the summer heat make the temperature rise. Great food and fine drink make the night glorious. I always hope that it would never end.

One of the best dance troupes I saw this year was Bikkuri-ren. Bikkuri, which means surprise, was a huge surprise. Their athletic moves in sync, were a joy to watch. Each of the groups of dancers within the troupe - the kids, young women, young men, frenzied and comedic dancers, and the musicians and drummers - in turn, made the crowds gasp from their performance.
http://youtu.be/YjBD1zLGlSw

With more than 150 dance troupes and 12,000 dancers, performing in eight different parade routes, I could only see a fraction of the performances. But the great food, raw power, mesmerizing music, and, ultimately, the awesome beauty will draw me back again next year.

For more information on Awaodori, there is a wonderful site Awaodori.net. Unfortunately, it is only in Japanese.
http://www.awaodori.net/

Tokushima's page on their festival is also in English:
http://www.city.tokushima.tokushima.jp/english/awaodori.html

mikekato image

mikekato

United States

mikekato's other advice

A Really Close Shave... images

A Really Close Shave...

I've been shaving my head for the past 15 years. It is a chore, but I've gotten used to it. It sometimes grows a bit, during camps and sometimes during long holidays like Golden Week. But basically, …

An Eye-con of Shinjuku images

An Eye-con of Shinjuku

Subaru is a fairly well known brand globally, particularly for those who are familiar with off-road racing. It's definitely not as much a household brand name as Toyota or Honda, or even companies kn…

Send Out the Towels images

Send Out the Towels

Ikeuchi Organic is a Japanese company that makes towels like no other. Towels are not its only products, but towels are the company's core products. And what wonderful towels they are!The company…

Lights, Camera, Attraction! images

Lights, Camera, Attraction!

There's no shortage of holiday blessings in Japan. Not being a Christian nation has never stopped Japan from adopting this holiday as its own. And while Christmas caroling has not yet become a holi…

I'm Punched images

I'm Punched

At a recent bonenkai (year-end party), one of the entertainers was Neko Punch. Neko Punch is a band, led by singer/songwriter Leanne and producer/bass player Macc. Later, the duo was joined by dancer…

Celestial Geisha: A Perfect Performance images

Celestial Geisha: A Perfect Performance

Yes, you may not realize it, but not only is there a history of geisha in Tokyo, but there are quite a few places where there are active geisha communities, including Kagurazaka, Asakusa, Shinbashi/G…

You might also like

Enjoy the Yokohama Market, heaven for fish lovers, in a more delicious way images

Enjoy the Yokohama Market, heaven for fish lovers, in a more delicious way

When we think of the Marine Products Division of the Yokohama Market, we imagine the intermediate wholesalers, true professionals in the world of fish, all lined up, with other professionals in the w…

Kanagawa P.G.T.D. image

Kanagawa P.G.T.D.

Traditional American Thanksgiving images

Traditional American Thanksgiving

As a native Californian living in Japan there are some food holidays and flavors I really miss from home! Food is an amazing part of our socialization and culture. The food in Japan is amazing but we…

Traci Pink Cow image

Traci Pink Cow

Dances with Demons images

Dances with Demons

One doesn't have to look far to see how pervasive dance is in Japan. Nearly every pop group has an intricate dance routine to accompany their performances. There are studios which teach everything fr…

GoodPeople image

GoodPeople

Tell me about Japanese Undokai (Sports days) images

Tell me about Japanese Undokai (Sports days)

School Sports Festival for Kids! Anyone can be a hero on this day. It’s also a day for Dads to fight!For some kids, it will be an important day to determine his or her position in the hierarchy o…

totowatanabe image

totowatanabe

Kameido Tenjin's birds for good fortune images

Kameido Tenjin's birds for good fortune

Kameido Tenjin Shrine (亀戸天神社) is known as a shrine for people who wish for success in their studies, like passing exams. On January 24 and 25, the shrine has a special event, the usokae-shinji (…

David image

David

My seven-tiered Hina doll set images

My seven-tiered Hina doll set

The photo shows my seven-tiered Hina doll set. My grandpa bought the set for me when I was a baby. Platforms covered with a red carpet are used to display a set of ornamental dolls (雛人形 hina-ningy…

EmiOnishi image

EmiOnishi