Throughout the year, Japan has many Matsuri (festivals) that are incredibly fun, vibrant and full of tradition. It’s during summer though that the largest dance festivals called Awa Odori (traditional dance festivals) occur in cities and suburbs all over Japan.
Over two August nights, Koenji Awa Odori is one of the largest festival celebrations in Tokyo with over 12,000 dancers and musicians from all over Japan. The dancers are grouped into teams called “ren” and march with an accompanying band of drums, shamisen, flutes and bells.
The chant for Awa Odori is often referred to as the “fools dance” with the words "Odoru aho ni miru aho; onaji aho nara odoranya son son!" (It's a fool who dances and a fool who watches; if both are fools, you might as well dance!)
There are different dance steps for men and women. The women’s dance is supposed to be elegant and harmonious, with beautiful tiptoe steps, and aims to display the glamorous refinement of the dancer. The men’s dance is variously described as dignified elegance, liveliness, or wildness. The one certain thing of the performance is that there is a great amount of choreography and skill that goes into the performance.
Each ren has its own costume and performance style, its hard to know where to look with so much action and noise going on all at once.
Awa Odori is very much a family festival with people all ages partake in. From the graceful elders to the enthusiasm of the kids leading to the dance cry of "Yatto Sa!” Massive crowds of over 1 million enjoy the spectacle and even get to join in the dancing at the end of the festival.
- If you plan on visiting Koenji Awa Odori, I highly recommend booking tickets for the performances at Seshion during the day. The bigger more polished res perform with some of the most mesmerising routines. Event and ticket information can be found http://www.koenji-awaodori.com
- If you don’t have reserved seats for the grandstands, I recommend getting there early in the afternoon to get a good vantage point. Its a large area that the event is held over, but with over 1 million visitors, some areas are very crowded.
- Japan festival food is brilliant (ok, Japan cuisine in general is brilliant), so while wandering around, try the yakitori (grilled meat skewers), takoyaki (octopus pancake balls, thats the best description I can give it and they are delicious) and Teriyaki (a fish shaped pastry filled with something sweet)
- Explore Koenji outside of festival hours. Koenji has picked up the “coolest neighbourhood” tag with some very cool live music venues, vintage fashion, hipster eateries, bars and coffee shops.
- Photographers take out the fast zoom lens for this one. Theres plenty of action going on everywhere. If you are fortunate enough to move around through the crowd a fast prime is ideal in the mixture of low light in the night, but the majority of spectators will be stuck in the one vantage point.