Summer is for Dancing
Summer in Japan can be hot and humid and the very idea of dancing in the streets on a warm summer night may sound a little crazy to some but it’s a tradition deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Awa Odori (literally Awa dance) originating from Tokushima Prefecture of Shikoku (that’s one of the four main islands of Japan) is a popular dance style in summer.
According to the Wikipedia page, the Awa Dance Festival in Shikoku attracts over 1.3 million tourists each year. Now that’s a lot of people! Legend has it that this style of dancing was born during a feudal lord’s celebration of the completion of his castle. The townspeople having consumed a generous amount of sake began to dance and play musical instruments in their drunken state.
Tokyo also has it’s own rendition of the Awa Odori Dance Festival (albeit at a much smaller scale) throughout the months of summer. I went to two of them at Kagaruzaka and Shimokitazawa, both lively neighborhoods in Tokyo.
Probably the most eye catching part of the dance is the costume, in particular the hat worn by the ladies. It’s straw woven hat and is known as amigasa in Japanese. As for the history and design of the amigasa, well I couldn’t find anything much on Google. If you know, leave me a comment below 🙂
I noticed that in all Japanese customs or festivals, there are always people of all age groups participating. Like this elderly gentleman. He’s definitely got the moves like Jagger.
And then there are the children. The children who are always greeted by exclamations of “kawaii!!!” by every Japanese women in the audience. They are kinda cute… especially the ones who look like they have no clue what they’re doing.
More importantly, I think it’s a great practice to ensure the continuity of Japanese culture. Some of them may be a little too young to understand what’s going on but I think it’s important to inculcate such values from childhood. The fact that these festivals continue to be held in the middle of a modern and bustling metropolis like Tokyo is a testament to this practice.
As I was doing my research for this post, I read that there’s going to be a big Awa Dance Festival in Paris in 2015. Apparently hundreds of dancers from Japan will be flown over to perform. I think that speaks volumes on the popularity of the Awa dance style that Japan deems it fit as an “import” product.
If you’re ever in Tokyo during the summer months, this is a dance festival I highly recommend. Better yet, make a trip to Tokushima, to the place where it all started and witness the biggest dance festival in Japan.