Awa odori: The history and performance of Japan's largest folk dance festival
There is something truly magical about Japanese festivals. In the days leading up to a large festival, you’ll hear the distant sound of drums banging, and chanting from festival revellers practising for their big event. There is electricity in the air, things familiar and exotic, and at the root of it all—there is a practised and unwavering method to every detail.
Wall scroll depicting awa odori (Image credit: Eugene Lee)
Although Japanese dance festivals are not as well-known as the fireworks or summer festivals, the biggest, and most iconic folk-dance festival is the Awa odori (阿波踊り) in Tokushima Prefecture (徳島県 Tokushima-ken). The festival usually runs during the middle of August, but the Awa odori Festival Hall (阿波踊り会館 Awa odori kaikan) is available for people to visit year-round.
Awa odori Festival Hall (阿波踊り会館)
Address: 2-20 Shinmachibashi, Tokushima-shi, Tokushima 770-0904
Nearest station: Tokushima Station (徳島駅)
Opening hours: 9am–9pm (Monday–Sunday) Closed on the second Wednesday of February, June, and October, 28 to 31 December, and 1 January.
Covered seating shaped like Awa odori hats, in front of the festival hall (Image credit: Eugene Lee)
Located at the foot of Mount Bizan (眉山), the Awa odori Festival Hall functions as a museum tracing the history of the Awa odori, a small theater with multiple Awa odori performances and also offers cable car rides to the top of Mount Bizan for a fabulous view of the Tokushima area.
Tickets available for cable car, performance, and museum separately or as a package (Image credit: Eugene Lee)
The cable car ride is a nice way to enjoy the afternoon and the scenic view from the top is quite spectacular. The museum has some interesting features such as a VR lounge for watching previous dance performances, but the real standout at the festival hall is the live dance performance.
Awa odori in the streets (Image credit: Tyoron2 / CC BY-SA 3.0)
The performance was fantastic as a stand-alone dance exhibition, but it also served as an introduction to the main distinguishing features of the dance across different time periods and a miniature Awa odori dance lesson. The crash course introduction into the Awa odori was enlightening, but it became incredibly apparent all the minor details that an expert weaves into their art to increase the beauty of the performance. The deep crouching position the men take, the fact that the women do the majority of the dance tip-toeing and the small finger snaps, and flair-like hand waves that turn this dance from a hobby into an artform.
Header image credit: Eugene Lee