Updated: July 19, 2017
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Tokushima Awa Odori: the mother of all awa dances!

The Tokushima Awa Odori is said to be the biggest awa dance festival in Japan, attracting annually 1.3 million visitors! Be sure to attend it if you are on the Shikoku island during the O-bon period.

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The Festival's Origin

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Tokushima city from mount Bizan. The region in which Tokushima is located was called "Awa", thus the dance became known as the "Awa Odori", the dance of Awa.
The festival originated over 400 years ago when the feudal lord of the region around Tokushima decided to throw a party upon completion of his castle. During the celebrations, the lord offered sake to the local folks who then got really drunk and started dancing erratically in a festive and joyous atmosphere. People had so much fun that the event became an annual tradition. And thus Awa Odori was born. Interestingly, the awa dance spread all accross Japan as a celebration to welcome the spirits of ancestors during the O-bon season.

What is it About?

At the Tokushima Awa Odori Festival, over a period of four days, approximately 1000 local groups called ren perform awa dances to the music of traditional Japanese instruments. Dressed in yukata (summer kimono) they advance in a procession on a pre-set course in the streets of Tokuyama. The dance is performed in synchronicity and in irregular steps reminding us that this was a dance originally performed by drunks! Yet, there is a lot of grace to it in its current form.
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The downtown streets are closed to car circulation during the festivities. People gather along the streets to watch the dancers advance through the course. Everything can be viewed for free but to get a better view, selected seats may be purchased for 800 to 2000 yen. Along the Shinmachi River, many stalls sell matsuri foods and drinks! Enjoy the local specialties there.
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Shown above, female dancers wearing the "geta", Japanese tradtitional wooden clogs during an awa odori performance. Every ren has a different yukata. From the tatami hats to the geta, it's interesting to pay attention to the beautiful outfits worn by the performers.

Nikawa-ren: go with the flow and dance yourself!

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Children and adults alike are part of the celebration. Why not join the fun?
Once the official dances are over, people are encouraged to join the celebrations by dancing. It takes only a few pointers to learn the dance and the locals will be glad to teach you how its done. Their is a famous song that goes as follows: Dancing fools and watching fools are fools both the same, so why not dance?

Awa Odori Museum

If you happen to go to Tokushima outside of the O-bon festival season but you would still like to know about the odori tradition, you should visit the Awa Odori Museum. It opened in 1999. You can learn about the history of Awa odori and there are also short lessons of how to do the dances yourself!

Address: 2 Shimbashi, Tokushima-shi
Telephone: 088-611-1611

Lastly...

If you love Awa Odori, this is the event you have got to attend. It happens once a year in August for four days during the O-bon season. This is the biggest of its kind in Japan, and the original one!
tabikamome
Japanese food culture enthusiast. Love to explore new areas and discover local specialties.

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