Awa Odori Dance Festival

Dance like it’s the last night of your life! – by Lance Kita
As a Tokushima sempai, here are five insider’s tips to enhance your “Yatto-saa!” experience.

1. Sneak Preview

With over 1.3 million visitors flooding Tokushima City during the four days of this festival, things can get a bit crowded. Residents, however, can enjoy many of the dance groups, or ren 連, as they rehearse in open spaces around town. Stroll or bike around the Tokushima Castle  Park on weekday evenings from 7 – 9 pm, and the sounds of gongs, drums, and flutes will waft through the air. Washi-no-mon Gate and the boat dock along the Suketo River are two reliable places. Also try the athletic fields along the Yoshino River and the Shinmachi River boardwalk as well.

2. Odorana son son!!   踊らな損、損! (you just gotta dance!)

When you read this, it will probably be too late to join TOPIA’s Arasowaren or TIA’s ren, which  are two of the best ways to participate in the dancing if you’re a foreigner (keep this in mind for next year). But don’t fret, there are two more options: Niwaka-ren にわか連 allows anyone to learn the dance. Meet at 6:30 or 8:30 pm at the City Hall Shimin Hiroba or the Motomachi odori-hiroba (see below), and they will teach you the steps and dance through an enbujo 演舞場, the alley-like stages lined with bleachers for spectators. The second way is to find an odori-hiroba 踊り広場, those free-for-all dancing areas that spring up on the street, like on the station side of the Shinmachi Bridge. Just remember to move around in a circle and don’t clump in the middle. It’s a sweaty, delirious frenzy of humanity that embodies the true spirit of the dance.

3. Bigger’s not always better

There are four paid enbujo: Shiyakusho-mae 市役所前 (in front of the City Hall), Minami Uchimachi 南内町 (near the Ryogoku Bridge), Konya-machi 紺屋町 (near the Akitamachi drinking district), and Aibahama 藍場浜 (between the Shinmachi River and Sogo Dept. Store). Famous ren pass through them, and most tourists have the enbujo as their image of Awa Odori. Here’s a secret: Smaller stages are less crowded, free (usually), and still have a good selection of dancing. One that I recommend is the Yonden stage, in front of Shikoku Electric’s head office, behind the City Department store near Tokushima Station. One more hidden gem is the street corner in front of the Kenban Building in the Tomida-machi area. The traditional Awa Odori rhythm, awa-zomeki 阿波ぞめきis strummed by a shamisen troupe as neighbors dance in the intersection. It’s an extremely cozy, casual dance area that harkens back to the community-based roots of Awa Odori. (My personal fav)

4. Get out of the city

Tokushima City is not the only place that has Awa Odori. Many of the major towns host their own festivals, which are just as lively, food/drink-laden, and colorful as the big one. Naruto’s festival kicks off with a huge fireworks show on August 7, with the main dancing from August 9-11. Miyoshi City’s Ikeda has a festival from August 14-16. Yoshinogawa City’s festival also happens on those days in front of Kamojima Station. Other towns’ summer festivals will usually have Awa Odori in addition to their local dance. Get out and mingle with your local community!

5. Wait till the end

For those who are getting tickets to one of the enbujo, may I suggest the later time slot at the Minami-Uchimachi enbujo…it comes with a bonus. All of the “famous” ren 有名連 converge on this stage and dance through it en masse to close out the evening in a procession known as So-Odori総踊り. Imagine a sea of dancers, filling every possible bit of space in the enbujo, an undulating wave of colors, hats, fans, and flying hands. It’s a sight that’s enough to make one say “lucky you live in Tokushima.”

I hope you’ll take these bits of wisdom and really savor the unique dance culture in this prefecture.