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Making the Summer Even Hotter!

Tokyo Is a Showcase for Summer Festivals



The Tokyo Koenji Awaodori Dance Festival, one of the first regional festivals held in Tokyo.

Summers in Japan are "hot." Every year from July to September people across Japan fill the streets with fun and energy in celebrating Summer Festivals.

For many Japanese people, this is the season to celebrate "bon" or "obon," a Buddhist custom to honor one's ancestors. It is considered the time when the spirits of ancestors return home, and festivals are held throughout the nation. Many of these festivals feature "bon odori" or bon dance, an event where people join in a circle and dance to music. Originally a solemn ritual for the repose of the souls of their ancestors, bon dance grew to take on an entertainment and festive nature over time. Today, it has evolved into a variety of unique local festivals, upbeat summer events where people can really enjoy themselves.


Dancers of all ages dance in a circle during the Kawachi Ondo Bon Dance Festival in Kinshi-cho. Cool, dynamic electric guitar music keeps the dancers moving.

Summer Festivals in JapanThere are many different kinds of summer festivals held throughout Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. Indeed, there are far too many to mention, but one of note is the Nebuta Festival of Aomori in the Tohoku region. Enormous lantern floats in the shape of samurai warriors and other figures are pulled through the streets, and dancers known as "haneto" surround the floats and dance as they move along the street, chanting "Rassera! Rassera!" Another is the awa-odori or Awa Dance Festival of Tokushima, Shikoku. Dance teams called "ren" dance to the steady rhythm of musical accompaniment. There are actually quite a few people who spend their summer vacation traveling around Japan every year to see or participate in summer festivals held in various regions.

Festivals from Around the Country All Brought Together in TokyoOne of the most famous of festivals held in Tokyo is the Fukagawa Festival at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine in Fukagawa, featuring a procession of "mikoshi" portable shrines. The festival, along with the Kanda Festival and the Sanno Festival, is counted as one of Tokyo's three major festivals. There are also many festivals held in different neighborhoods all over the city. Some feature the bon dance, and more recently, there have been moves to introduce in Tokyo famous regional festivals held in other parts of Japan in an effort to boost the development of shopping districts. Today, Tokyo is a showcase of summer festivals all brought together from around the country.

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Young people dancing in the Harajuku Omotesando Genki Festival Super Yosakoi event. Each team has its own unique costumes and dance moves.

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The Nakanobu Nebuta Festival, which features lantern floats pulled through the streets.

Praying for Recovery in TohokuOne of the most well known of the regional festivals held in Tokyo is the Tokyo Koenji Awaodori Dance Festival, held just west of Shinjuku in the Koenji Eki-mae shopping district. The festival was first held in 1957 by a youth group from the shopping district, who wanted to hold an event that everyone in the neighborhood could participate in and enjoy. Now, 55 years later, the Tokyo version of the festival is comparable with the original Tokushima awa-odori, and the ren dance teams from Tokushima also come to Tokyo to take part in the fun. In the summer of 2011, a total of 10,000 people joined the dance to pray for recovery in Tohoku, the region hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11 of the year, and it attracted 900,000 visitors.

Since 1986 the Kawachi Ondo Bon Dance Festival has been held in Kinshi-cho, near Ryogoku, the location of sumo wrestling's Kokugikan arena. "Kawachi Ondo" is a famous song for bon dancing with roots that stretch back 700 years to a suburb of Osaka. It has a unique melody and the words include parodies of current issues and events. Following the lead of the music, dancers of all ages enter a ring and dance to their heart's content. Originally designed T-shirts were sold at the event venue to raise funds to support the people and regions affected by the earthquake.



Haneto dancers impressing the crowd with their jumping moves as they dance around the Nebuta floats.

Since 2001 the Harajuku Omotesando Genki Festival Super Yosakoi event, which features the Yosakoi Festival from Kochi (Shikoku), has been held in Harajuku on the street approaching Meiji Shrine. Every year, nearly one hundred ren dance teams join the event and perform their own dances to the beat of the Yosakoi music. Also participating this year was a dance team from Fukushima, one of the prefectures in the Tohoku area. All the teams joined together and performed dances to pray for the recovery of the region and created great excitement in the event.

This year marks the 12th Nakanobu Nebuta Festival—the Tokyo version of the Tohoku festival—held Shinagawa's Nakanobu Shopping District. The festival normally takes place once every two years, but even though this year was an off year, it was also held to pray for the recovery of the Tohoku region. With floats from Aomori also participating in the event, the energy of the haneto dancers who joined the festival appeared to be even more spirited than usual and made this year's festival more exciting than ever.

Various regional festivals make the Tokyo summer even hotter. This summer, which marked the first after the earthquake, they united the thoughts and hopes of many people, who prayed for the recovery of the Tohoku region.
(October 2011)

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