Postcard from Boutique Japan: Tokyo’s Liveliest Dance Festival

Konnichiwa!

It’s Andres, from Boutique Japan.

This month’s postcard comes from Koenji, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo:

Once more, I want to welcome my colleague Vanessa, who spent years living in this fascinating neighborhood. Take it away, Vanessa-san!

One way to keep warm as temperatures drop in the northern hemisphere is to think of steamy summertime festivals, and my absolute favorite summertimematsuri in Tokyo is the colorful Awa Odori.

Awa Odori is a matsuri (festival) that originated in rural Tokushima (formerly known as Awa Province). It began in the 1580s, when the feudal lord of Awa held a giant celebration at the opening of Tokushima castle.

The attendees of the celebration, after drinking throughout the night, began a rhythmic, uneven, drunken dance while musicians played to a simple beat.

This turned into an annual, light-hearted dancing celebration, with both call-and-response chants that have no meaning, and a main chant that roughly translates to: “The dancers are fools, the watchers are fools, if both are fools, why not dance?

In the 1950s, a version of the Awa Odori began to be held in Koenji, a wonderful neighborhood in western Tokyo. These days, it attracts over 10,000 dancers from all over Japan, and a million spectators!

Basically, it’s a giant mid-summer dance-off in the streets:

Arriving early (to secure a space on the sidewalk lining the main street of Koenji) is a must. As dusk approaches, you’ll hear the drums start and the magic begins.

Each troupe dances to a similar drum beat, accompanied by Japanese flutes and stringed instruments, with chanting to encourage the dancers – and every group brings its own flavor to the dance:

So if you’re going to be in Tokyo in August, the Koenji Awa Odori is a must!

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Until Next Time!

As always, I’d love to hear what want to see us write about on our blog. If you have any ideas or requests, please hit reply to this email and let me know!

Sincerely,

Andres

Andres Zuleta
Founder, Boutique Japan

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