Web Japan > Trends in Japan > Pop Culture > YOSAKOI, an Event Gaining Traction Around the World

YOSAKOI, an Event Gaining Traction Around the World

    Festivals called “Matsuri” have been held all across Japan since ancient times. These Matsuri are important events for people living nearby, and the tradition of these festivals has been passed down through generations to the present day. Many of the Matsuri are generally conducted with a focus on tradition and according to time-honored customs and rules, while incorporating the history and practices of each region. About 60 years ago, a different type of festival came to being within Japan’s Kochi Prefecture, in contrast with Matsuri that place great emphasis on tradition. Known as Yosakoi Matsuri, this festival lets all kinds of people from all ages to go wild with excitement as they celebrate in a freer and merrier manner. The word “Yosakoi” comes from “Yosakoi-bushi,” the name of a folk song dating back many years in Kochi Prefecture. “Yosakoi” is an old Japanese word meaning “come and visit at night.” Yosakoi Matsuri has continued to evolve and develop up to the present day. It has spread from its original birthplace to many areas across Japan, and even to multiple countries around the world. The new festivals that developed in relation to Yosakoi Matsuri are collectively known as “YOSAKOI.”

The Birth of Yosakoi Matsuri

    Yosakoi Matsuri has a relatively short history: it originated in Kochi Prefecture in 1954 with the intent to eliminate post-war economic depression, to pray for citizens’ good health and prosperity, and to promote activity in shopping streets that suffer a drop in business during the summer. There were some 750 participants when it was first held, though more and more people continue to join each year. Over 10,000 people took part in the 30th iteration of Yosakoi Matsuri, and the festival has come to be an iconic Japanese Matsuri.

Yosakoi Matsuri began as a small-scale event, originating as a locally-coordinated Matsuri (Image provided by KOCHI OMATI RASHISA)

    One of the defining characteristics of Yosakoi Matsuri is its high level of freedom. In regular festivals across Japan, there are specific rules about the music to be used and the style of dancing, and value is placed on preserving and relaying these traditions. On the other hand, Yosakoi Matsuri has almost no fixed rules. There are only a handful of features required for the festival, such as using an instrument called a Naruko, incorporating a specific phrase within the music, and dancing while moving forward along a set path. As long as these features are retained, each team looking to show off their dancing are welcome to freely select any music, costumes, and even dancing styles of their choice. Each team is made up of several dozen—or sometimes even over one hundred—dancers who form a line and parade along a path as they dance.

    In most cases, Yosakoi Matsuri is conducted by closing off a road normally used by cars, where festivities continue for one whole day. During the event, these usually traffic-laden roads are instead filled with dancers. You are sure to experience a highly feverish, powerful display as you watch them move by while dancing.

Enjoy the Marvelous Movement of the Dancers! Things to Look Out For in Yosakoi Matsuri

    All participants at Yosakoi Matsuri express themselves freely through dance, though the event has a few necessary elements.

    One of these is the Naruko. The Naruko is an essential instrument in Yosakoi Matsuri. Made from several pieces of wood joined together, it makes a pleasant clacking sound that enhances the festive Matsuri spirit. The Naruko was originally used as a tool within agricultural areas, and was hung up in order to protect crops from birds and other wild animals.

    Currently, the fundamental style of dancing in Yosakoi Matsuri involves moving while holding a pair of Naruko, with one in each hand. The Naruko is traditionally made by painting a paddle-shaped plank red and then fitting it with wooden boards painted black and yellow. However, many teams create Naruko with unique shapes and color schemes. One of the pleasures of Yosakoi Matsuri is in experiencing the different appearances of the Naruko as well the variations in the sounds that each one produces.

Naruko was originally used as a tool in agriculture

    The elegant costumes sported by the dancers serve as another must-see feature at the festival. Some dancing teams wear traditional Japanese garments called “Wafuku,” while others take on attire with a tropical theme that evokes the spirit of a Brazilian samba. Some teams take it one step further by merging these two distinct styles to produce an entirely new mode of fashion. You are sure to find enjoyment even in just watching the event like a fashion show, as you witness the ideas of each dancer expressed visually in their costumes. These unique garments are either hand-made by the dancers or are purchased or ordered from clothes stores that specialize in Matsuri costumes.

Experience a dazzling display of unique visual styles with Japanese traditional garments and many other kinds of costumes

Yosakoi Matsuri Across Japan

    The high level of freedom and the powerful, earth-shaking dancing in Yosakoi Matsuri garnered popularity, and the festival eventually spread across Japan. There are currently 200 locations in Japan that hold related Matsuri events affectionately known as YOSAKOI.

Participants enjoy freedom in all aspects, from music to costumes and even their dancing style (The pictures on the left and right each show YOSAKOI in Yokohama and Tokyo)

    As Yosakoi Matsuri spread across Japan, it created new fusions with cultures in other regions, and this blending of cultures is another must-see aspect of the festival. By incorporating the essence of “Awa-odori,” Soran-bushi,” and other traditional Matsuri and dances performed in other areas, Yosakoi Matsuri continues to expand its palette of expression to a near infinite scale. Teams of dancers with roots outside of Japan often take part in recent years, allowing you to experience modes of dance and methods of expression from around the world. You may feel as if you are going on a worldwide tour.

You can now find expressive dances from many different countries at the events (The pictures on the left and right each show YOSAKOI in Tokyo and Hokkaido)

YOSAKOI Around the World

    Yosakoi Matsuri originated as a locally-hosted Matsuri event, but it gained fans from Japan and across the globe as it spread through Japan while gaining ever higher levels of freedom. Its rules are simple and allow for freeform expression, making the festival easily adopted by countries overseas. Yosakoi Matsuri has also been showcased many times in volunteering activities and events for cultural promotion conducted by Japan for the world.

    Efforts have also been made within Japan, with local municipalities and event hosts inviting teams from many countries overseas, as well as appointing successful people abroad as “Yosakoi Ambassadors” to engage with the public. These efforts have greatly enhanced the visibility of the festival.

    In the present day, YOSAKOI has spread to many locations worldwide, with events held at 29 countries and regions around the world including America’s iconic city of New York, as well as London, the capital of the United Kingdom, and Ghana in Africa.

YOSAKOI held in Ghana. YOSAKOI has spread across the world, and this event has come to be loved by many people regardless of national borders (Images provided by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA))

    Many people come together and cooperate to move energetically through the spirit of Matsuri across national, cultural, and linguistic borders. This is precisely the ideal that YOSAKOI aimed to achieve. If you ever have the chance, why not participate as well?

Page Top