Japan Atlas: Festivals

Awa Dance


Date: August 12-15

Place: Tokushima City, Tokushima Pref.

Number of Visitors:
1.3 million (1997)

The Whole City and Visitors Enjoy Festive Dance

There's a unique type of dancing that's performed in the area around Tokushima City on the island of Shikoku. It's called Awa odori (dance), and people gather from across the nation from August 12 to 15 both to dance and watch. Awa is the old name for Tokushima Prefecture.

Awa odori is part of the Bon festivities, which are held to welcome one's ancestors back to this world for a few days. Though Bon dances are usually performed in a circle, Awa odori participants march in a straight line. The dancers are grouped into teams called ren, which are usually made up several dozen dancers. They march through the streets in unison to music performed on the shamisen, flute, drums, and bells singing "Odoru aho ni miru aho; onaji aho nara odoranya son son!" (It's a fool who dances and a fool who watches; if both are fools, you might as well dance!).

Because of this chant, Awa odori is sometimes called the "fool's dance." The movements are really simple; all you have to do is keep your legs and arms moving forward with as much vigor as possible. Men dance in tabi (split-toed, rubber-soled socks), while women wear sandals, their heels not touching the ground. One rule you have to observe is to keep your hands and arms above your shoulder while dancing. This is quite unusual, since most dancing styles in Japan emphasize downward motion. Awa odori is upward oriented.

The dancing style is believed to have been invented one night in 1585, when construction of a new castle for the lord of the Awa domain was completed. During the party held to celebrate the new castle, people got so drunk that they started dancing with their arms and legs flailing.

A lot of events take place around the country during the Bon season in mid-August, and Awa odori is among the most famous. In 1996, some 230 teams participated; they included veteran dancers showing off their style, corporate teams advertising their products, and student teams that came up with ingenious presentations. There were also some energetic teams made up of children.

Photos: A line of Awa dancers heep their arms high. (Tokushima Prefecture)

Unauthorized reproduction of the photos in this page is prohibited.

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