Awa Odori is a fabulous dance festival in Tokushima city that is not to be missed especially when you wish to travel to Japan in summer. This is one of the most popular summer festivals in Japan. Every year the festival is held from August 12 to 15. Are you one of them who would like to witness thousands of people dancing together? In fact you could be part of it if you want. Surprised?! Yes, visitors from every corner in this mighty world could participate in the dancing. There is no special dancing skill requirement when it comes to Awa Odori. If you want to dance like a fool, then do it. Actually, no one would care of it. Seriously, you just have got to keep dancing until you get tired.

A group of female dancers at Awa Odori festival, Tokushima. Photo Credit: chee_hian at Flickr.

During the Obon season in mid August, many dance festivals are held across Japan and the most exciting one is the Awa Odori of Tokushima city. When it comes to visiting Tokushima in summer, people usually are interested in seeing this dance festival. Here “Awa” is the previous name for present Tokushima prefecture while on the other hand “Odori” simply means dance. More than one million spectators arrive in Tokushima during the festival time. It makes the city gloriously beautiful and fills the locals with excitement. Today, I would like to share with you the real atmosphere you could experience by participating in this festival.

An Important Message to Read

A few years back, I have met few guys out there when watching the dancing. They were telling me that they have gone through a difficult time. What’s the matter with them? Was there any problem relating to this festival? NO, there was not. Everything was well organized. The problem they faced was severe. Having arrived in Tokushima, they discovered that hotels and inns all were booked out months in advance. So, if you are visiting Tokushima during the festival, make sure you reserve a hotel room in advance otherwise you have to stay nearest cities for example in Naruto. You can check out the hotels that are still available for you here.

“Ren” – What is this?

Ren – A group of dancers. Photo Credit: Jose Cruz at Flickr.

Ren is called groups of dancers coming from different community to sparkle the festival in front of millions of visitors. You can see dance groups that participate in the dancing from Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and many more. That’s glorious when all the community from different parts of Japan joins in and makes the festival breathtaking. A group (ren) consists of both veterans and amateurs dancers including taiko drummers and flute players. The parade of thousands of dancers divided into groups dance in different form of styles while the music is beautifully accompanied by the sound of shamisen, taiko drums and shinobue flutes.

The Costumes of Men and Women

Two female dancers wear colorful costumes. Photo Credit: LdeLou at Flickr.

Do you think that wearing shorts and t-shirt for men and women would make this festival entertaining? Most of the people would not be interested in coming here to see that. Summer festivals in Japan are glorious not only because of the things they show you following a hundred years tradition but also the attire they wear.

The attire they put on is amazingly colorful and elegant. Men usually wear happi – a short coat, and shorts while women display their dancing skills wearing Yukata (summer kimono), geta sandals, straw hat (amigasa). Both male and female wear white tabi socks.

History of Awa Odori

The parade at the Awa Odori Festival, Tokushima. Photo Credit: MatsuriTracker at Flickr.

The history of Awa Odori dates back to 1587 when the feudal lord Hachisuka Iemasa (1558-1638) decided to throw a party in celebration of newly-built Tokushima Castle. People of the castle town were offered sake to drink as a result they became very drunk and started dancing like insane and fool. Soon it was decided to make it an annual event once they had recovered from their hangovers.

During the Edo period (1603–1867) the government had imposed some restrictions such as dancing was strictly prohibited at all temple properties, Samurai were not allowed to participate in this festival, wearing mask and carrying swords were not allowed for dancer and viewers. It is said that in the 1920s, this folk dance festival was organized in order to attract tourist from all over the world. This tradition is still going on. People from other parts of Japan and outside Japan come to see this enchanting summer event.

About the Festival

Take a look at these guys – they are looking so excited! Photo Credit: MatsuriTracker at Flickr.

I have experienced the Awa Odori festival several times and I have a plan to reach there this year as well. I hope I would have lots of fun there dancing with people in the streets. Here I would like to share the things that I experienced before.

Awa Odori takes place during the Obon week. It is an annual Buddhist event and the time when the spirits of the dead are thought to return to their ancestral houses. It is a public holiday period in Japan. Many people working outside their home town get back to their houses and spend few days together with family celebrating summer festivals like Awa Odori.

Flute players at the Awa Odori folk dance festival. Photo Credit: MatsuriTracker at Flickr.

In general, Awa Odori is the dance of the fools. Awa Yoshikono is the song, sung and chanted by the participants in the parade. “Some fools dance, and some fools watch. You’re a fool either way, so why not dance?” are the words come from the song. In addition, to encourage the whole Ren, all the dancers chant “Eraiyatcha, eraiyatcha, yoi yoi yoi yoi!” You would surly hear this sound quite very often as the dancing parade moves on. The dancers are fools, the viewers are the fools, if both are fools, and you might as well have fun dancing. Therefore, you are highly encouraged to participate in the dancing. Don’t be ashamed.

A male dancer! He looks so funny. Photo Credit: Rosino at Flickr.

The male dancing is very funny to watch in comparison with female dancing. The female dancers know the how to make you fall in love with the style of their dancing. It is truly elegant and stylish! Though, the men’s dance involves with bending over a bit with legs slightly bowed, raising the pair of hands a little above the forehead and lightly waving the wrists up and down. While on the other hand, the women turn the palms inward and beautifully move the wrists. Also women perform the men’s style dancing. Though, there is a saying that if you raise your hands and move your legs forward then that’s perfect! By doing so you are doing Awa Odori. I saw many spectators like me were dancing at the same time laughing. Anyway, it was awesome!

A group of female dancers at the Awa Odori in Tokushima. Photo Credit: Rosino at Flickr.

You will be glad to know that most of the festivities/stage events take place in downtown Tokushima. Evening parade of thousands of dancers of different ages who repeatedly follow their moves is the main highlight of this summer matsuri. The main event takes place between 18:00 and 22:30 when thousands of performers respectfully show their dancing skills holding traditional Japanese hand fans. There are about seven designated areas (enbujo) scattered downtown. Some of the areas are free to enjoy watching the dancing while others are not. You could buy tickets at convenience stores or tourist information center in front of Tokushima Station to enjoy the professional dance group dancing at the paid stages.

These little kids are truly entertaining to watch their performance. Photo Credit: LdeLou at Flickr.

It is breathtaking when the sound of the music, chanting, hands clapping, and the dances form a magical moment. You just can’t forget the moment; in fact there is no reason to find out “Why”. Everything looks very wonderful as it is. Their beautiful attires, mind blowing dancing performances, food carts all these features bring a real festival environment. There are awesome daytime events performed on stages in which you have to pay some money. I honestly believe, you should not miss the daytime events.

How to Get to Tokushima?

It is time for visitors to dance together. Photo Credit: MatsuriTracker at Flickr.

I don’t think it is a daunting task for you. It is super easy. Japan is not a difficult place in which to travel, especially independently. Traveling to Hokkaido alone might cause some trouble if you are not guided well enough in terms of transportation but in Tokushima on Shikoku Island is very easy. Before the festival begins there are travel agencies that offer day tour bus services only for this festival from Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Okayama and etc. The bus tour is very economical and you won’t have to wait for the trains which could be very crowded as many tourists from other parts of Japan visit it.

Alternatively, you can take the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen to Okayama from Tokyo or Osaka. You need to switch to a rapid train in Okayama to Takamatsu. From there, you get in to local and limited express trains to reach to Tokushima Station. To be honest with you, if you are coming from Tokyo or Sapporo then you should reach there in Tokushima by Air, it is very convenient.

Travel Tips to Tokushima during the Awa Odori Festival

That’s so entertaining! Photo Credit: George Alexander Ishida at Flickr.

1) Don’t mess with the festival period, it will be held from August 12 to 15, 2016.

2) If you would like to stay few days in Tokushima then book your hotel room in advance.

3) Don’t forget to try to local specialties of Tokushima prefecture including the Japanese summer street foods.

4) You should carry a bottle of water and hand fan like this one. Apart from this, I highly recommend you to carry this Japan travel guidebook.

5) You must visit the top tourists attractions located throughout Tokushima prefecture.

6) Awa Odori is perfect event to dance, so don’t just look at the performers rather be prepared to have some fun time dancing with them.

7) Wear light clothes as the weather in Tokushima during summer is very humid.

8) Buy ticket in advance when you are to see paid stages event.

9) Get to the summit of Mount Bizan by ropeway for great views across Tokushima City.

Welcome to Tokushima City’s Awa Odori Festival 2016

Awa Odori Kaikan, Tokushima. Photo Credit: saldesalsal at Flickr.

It is a version of the Bon Odori – a dance performed in summer during the O-bon week. If you really want to be impressed by a tradition which Tokushima local people adore much then visiting Awa Odori folk dance festival is a must visited event for you. In summer, Japan offers a number of famous summer festivals to witness its visitors throughout the country. I myself feel very lucky to be here and it helps me to visit most of the festivals take place in different location across Japan.

If you are inspired reading this article then why don’t you come here and dance with people you meet there? Even if you miss this event, there is no need to worry about because you could get similar atmosphere by visiting the Awa Odori Kaikan (Museum). Dancers there are happy to perform Awa Odori dancing in front of you. They do it as a daily basis. I hope you don’t miss the main event that happens during the O-bon week. Feel free to roam around the city and capture the pleasant moments you see using your camera. Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2016 @ takkhis