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.



14 thoughts on “Summer is for Dancing

  1. Awwww! All your photos are so vibrant and colourful in the festive mood. How I wished to be there and I would go nuts joining the spectators. Tomorrow will be the annual Bon Odori festival at the stadium in Shah Alam but I cannot make it as usual. When I was in Fukuoka, i watched the Hakata’s Parade over the museum’s video which showed all the men weeping after the the street races and handovers. I ended up weeping there too like a silly fella.

    • Fascinating! Why were the men weeping after the races and handovers?
      I really enjoyed the Awa Dance Festivals. The chants and music are very catchy. Towards the end they usually have a massive free for all dance and invite all the spectators to join in. I’m sure you would have enjoyed that 🙂

      • You need to watch their videos at the Hakata Folks Museum to understand how their tough macho men had invested a year long preparations for that one day festival before passing the baton to the next team for the following year. The team spirit and unity amongst the Japanese are amazing and you probably had seen all this.

      • Hello Mr. Choong, I was searching for pictures of the obon festival and found your amazing website. I am very faszinated of your pictures and want to ask you, whether it is possible to use your pics and how does it work? I am working for a non-profit organization in Berlin. We are working for intercultural opening of the elderly care system here and we are greeting the migrant communties on our homepage to all the important international celebration days. Usually we write a short text on the Photo (like Happy Obon, Happy Songkran etc.).
        Kind regards, Christof

  2. Mate, I read about this exact same summer festival in the AirAsia inflight magazine! I just came back from Hat Yai and saw the photos and immediately thought of you. Yours is way better, you should check it out, I think it’s also online. 🙂

    You know, you can really be writing for travel magazines if you want. Your photos are awesome!

    • HAHA I’m feeling the pressure mate. But it’s good pressure. I’ve been feeling pretty lethargic after work and over the weekends so my blog and camera has been pretty neglected. Will try and come up with something by the end of this week. I do have plenty of backlog to clear. Watch this space!

  3. Wow. This must have been spectacular. And how wonderful are the shots you took! I suddenly feel an interest to truly witness this when a chance to visit Japan comes. I was a tad acquainted with the Awa Odori through the anime that recently aired in Japan. It’s “Golden Time”. A few snapshots of the Awa Odori from the anime:

    • Aahh yes I am aware that Golden Time used the Awa Odori dance in it’s story though I haven’t watched the show. Is it good?

      Have you watched Hanayamata? It aired over summer and the story featured another popular Japanese dance – yosakoi. It’s like a modernized version of Awa Odori with faster, more rapid dance moves.

      • I’m not sure if it’s to your liking, but Golden Time was an enjoyable show for me. It’s easily forgettable, though.

        I haven’t finished watching Hanayamata. I never knew yosakoi has a connection to Awa Odori. Thanks for that bit of info!

        • Actually I got the Awa Odori connection part from Wikipedia. I didn’t really do any fact-checking and we all know Wikipedia can be wrong… so don’t take my word for it. Haha

          I haven’t finished Hanayamata myself. The story is a bit slow for my liking but I guess that’s typical for moe slice of life shows.

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