Today I went to Tokushima on Shikoku Island Japan
Women Leaders, Awa-Odori Spunk and Much Laughter in Tokushima
This place was the Awa Han (Awa Clan), across the mountains from Kochi, where Ryoma Sakamoto began his effort to forge a new future for Japan.
I spotted the dancers as soon as the escalator neared the first floor of the newly opened airport terminal building. Behind my hosts, through the huge windows I glimpsed the Awa-Odori dancers of all ages, caught in joyous dance by cool gray stone; an able mason’s rendition of this locales prized tradition.
My hosts in their somber deep blue suits whisked me to the awaiting car and off I went to experience the people of Tokushima for the very first time. This date in Shikoku was for a speech about globalization and how Japanese can have much confidence in their ability to take on the exciting possibilities of growing tourism and the changing “norm” in an internationalized world.
Delicious food and interactions in Tokushima
After a quick stop at a delicious local Soba shop where I enjoyed zaru soba (cold soba on a mesh to be dipped in chilled soup filled with shallots and the sharp, fresh taste of Wasabi, we headed toward the town hall.
I asked my host what the specialty of Tokushima was, and they pointed to a beautiful mountain, Bizan (the Chinese character used refers to the curve of the mountain resembling an eyebrow), which they noted appears in Japan’s oldest known text, Manyoshu, and that it is the Mt. Fuji of Tokushima.
Adding the mountain was the backdrop for a popular piece of art by Masashi Sada (one of the silver generations most popular performers). When they mentioned Sada san, a touch of nostalgia played in my mind as I remembered my late mentor, Hiromasa Ezoe’s love of Sada-san’s meaningful lyrics and soothing voice. I realized the people I met in Tokushima were contemporaries of Ezoe san and I automatically felt drawn to their depth of experience and again was grateful for the opportunity to interact with the core group, the ones who literally “built” modern Japan.
My speech and the event about 1.5 hours hence, with no waiting room or coffee shop nearby, I was able to sit inside as everyone set up. My biggest surprise was that EVERYONE REALLY WAS setting up. I knew from previous email exchanges that Mr. Okada was the central leader for the event, but someone without that knowledge, would never guess. I’ve been in multiple situations where set up was required for an event. Ladies arranged the flowers, organized papers and name tags on the reception desk, brought in the signs and organized the handouts on each chair. Men did the “heavy work” setting up chairs, moving around the podium, checking the screen and projector, climbing the ladder to tack up the event poster, etc. This time though, there was no division of responsibility by gender. Everyone did everything, very naturally, very much in a positive fashion.
Women CEOs Abound!
Later, I asked another person about the specialty of Tokushima and he noted that this prefecture has the highest percentage of women CEOs. This confirmed the hint I had from the how everyone cooperated to set up the room.
After two speeches, an essay contest for neighborhood schools about the “Kizuna” or bond in families, much laughter and home made cake to end the evening and a dip in the 100 percent natural onsen on the roof of my Sunroute Hotel accommodation: I was ready to come back.
When I do, it will be for the beloved Awa-Odori festival in summertime. Another specialty of Tokushima that spans some 400 years, they say even your heart will dance as you watch the rhythmic moves and let yourself alight on the choppy waves of Shamisen-centered music. Lines and lines of brightly dressed Awa-Odori dancers stream through the streets, and the stars above Shikoku together with the undulating slopes of Bizan are awash in the magic of this ancient land.
If you are headed to Shikoku to walk the 88 Temple journey, I definitely recommend a stopover in Tokushima, a succulent bite of Tokushima Ramen, a few interactions with the refreshingly frank people and a moment of peace from the bright blue ocean, meandering Yoshinogawa River and the easy curve of Bizan Mountain.
Also, don't forget that Tokushima might just be the “girl power” capital of Japan. Go go go Yamato Nadeshiko (Samurai Ladies)!
Former Deep Japan Writer