Koenji Awa Odori
At the end of every summer, Kōenji plays host to Tokyo’s largest Awa Odori. This lively annual Japanese traditional dance festival originally started in Tokushima and was later adopted in Kōenji post-war by urban migrants from Tokushima Prefecture. Every year it attracts as many as 12,000 dancers and 1.2 million visitors over the course of just two days.
The Streets of Kōenji
During the Awa Odori, Kōenji’s streets are lined with happy spectators, festival revellers, and thousands of dancers.
Known to many as being the birthplace of Japanese punk music, Kōenji is a trendy neighbourhood in Tokyo, just west of Shinjuku. It is home to many boutique shops, live houses, and small restaurants. During the Awa Odori, Kōenji’s streets are lined with happy spectators, festival revellers, and thousands of dancers parading in colorful Japanese traditional costumes.
The procession is made up of around 200 local dance troupes weaving their way through the shopping streets on the north and south side of Kōenji, accompanied by shamisen lute, traditional drums, shinobue flutes and cymbals. The rhythm of the procession then builds up to a dramatic and exciting conclusion at the event’s finishing line.
The 59th Kōenji Awa Odori held this year in late August was organized under the theme of “Spreading Smiles” with the hope that the infectious smiles of the many thousands of participating dancers would lift the spirits of all the visitors and the local community of Kōenji.
The Origins of the Awa Odori
Fueled by great amounts of sake, the drunken revellers on that night started to sing and dance.
Historically, the Awa Odori festival probably originated and evolved from the Obon festivals in Tokushima, which have existed since the 16th century. It is said to have started more specifically in 1586 when the Lord Hachisuka Iemasa of Awa Province organized a celebration for the opening of Tokushima Castle.
Fueled by great amounts of sake, the drunken revellers on that night started to sing and dance. Some of the locals picked up some musical instruments and improvised music for the festivities. From then on, every year in Tokushima it became a popular major event that would last often for more than three days at a time. It wasn’t until the early 20th century, however, that the festival was officially coined Awa Odori.
The Kōenji Awa Odori Today
These days the Kōenji Awa Odori is a major event in Tokyo that is popular with both locals and tourists alike. Typically held in late August of every year, the festival’s exuberant energy, costumes, dancing, and music are all bound to delight and bring smiles to the faces of the millions of spectators and participants involved. To find out more about next year’s festival, be sure to check out the event’s website.
This article was originally published on Neocha Magazine. To view the full post, please visit Neocha.com/magazine
Images & Text by Leon Yan