More photos of the energetic Nagoyakaren, one of the Awaodori teams from Nakamurabashi in Tokyo’s northern Nerima Ward. Awaodori is originally a sort of folk dance and folk music from Japan’s Shikoku island and the modern prefecture of Tokushima. Different dancers play different roles in the ensamble and although all dancers from all over the country follow the same basic steps and music there are a vast number of subtle differences in everything from movement to rhythm to costume to more complex dance routines. The music is almost always performed by flutists, shamisen (a stringed instrument) players and different kinds of drums and brass rhythm instruments. Although the teams all have the same instruments there are variations in what emphasis they put on the different instruments and how they perform together with the dancers. There’s even quite a few specialist teams, for example teams with many deaf dancers or teams where the youngest member has to be over 65 years of age. The more you watch Awaodori, the more you learn and the deeper you go into it.
If you are a tourist and want to see Awaodori your best bet is to visit Tokushima prefecture or Tokyo during the summer when there are at least one Awaodori dance festival or show every weekend. Or, you can always visit the Awaodori restaurant with proper shows every night, in Shinjuku. Enjoy!
One of the things I love the most about Japanese festivals is that they are so multi-generational. Everyone gets a chance to join in and there is a place for everyone regardless of age or ability. One of the most exciting festivals in Tokyo is the massive Oeshiki buddhist ceremony at the huge Honmonji in Ikegami, Ota Ward in southern Tokyo. I took these photos of kids joining in, mimicking the adults with their matoi poles and ritual dancing. The kid’s versions are obviously much smaller but they still take it very seriously. Some of the kids are taped up like pro athletes! I can imagine that the constant twisting of the matoi poles can be very hard on fingers, hands and wrists. They also use a very fine talcum powder to get a proper grip on the poles, as the evening progresses the talcum tends to get everywhere! I found when I got home that evening that I too had been covered in a grey mist of powder! Even my camera was coated in it.
One little kid in particular caught my attention, too small to take part in the dancing the kid was still participating fully even from the pram!
Despite having been a diehard awaodori dancing fan for years now I still see new (new for me) local Tokyo teams every year. At Nerima Ward’s Nakamurabashi awaodori festival this summer I saw the Nagoyakaren (なごやか連), one of the local teams participating in that festival. Local teams are usually larger than visiting teams and Nagoyakaren was no exception, with energetic dancers and lots of very cute kids. I missed this team at this year’s Awaodori festival in Koenji (Tokyo’s largest) but I will keep an eye out for them next year if possible. The young mother dancing with the baby on her hip was most impressive – it must take a lot of strength! The local audience was also very energetic!
One of the most famous aspects of Akihabara for a long time was the Sunday only “Hokousha tengoku”, a temporary pedestrian zone established in the heart of Akihabara to stop traffic and allow people to flow onto the streets. It was cancelled for several years but is now up and running again, this time with a quite visible increase in security as police block of the streets leading into the pedestrian zone with large metal vehicle guards. The practice of officially sanctioned “Hokousha tengoku” (which translates a “pedestrian heaven”) started in Tokyo in August 1970, in Ginza, which remains the most famous hokusha tengoku in Japan. Currently there are three of them in official practice, Ginza, Shinjuku and Akihabara (detailed map on the metropolitan police website here), all on Sundays and some public holidays. During the time and area specified, all sorts of public performance, money raising, handing out promotional tissue paper or flyers, demos etc., is prohibited, making it a very unreal experience, peaceful and quiet. It makes me happy and sad at the same time: happy because of unusual break from the everyday hell of urban traffic and sad because it should make it painfully obvious to everyone how absurd our present day reliance on cars and traffic in our city centers really is. The fact that we devote so much public space (85%? 90%?) of prime real estate in our most important cities to traffic is just absurd. Surely there must be better ways of doing things.
There is a very high quality live webcam of one famous Akihabara street crossing, log in on Sundays to see the Hokousha tengoku for yourself! Apart from Ginza, Shinjuku and Akihabara there are other “unofficial” hokousha tengoku spots appearing around Tokyo, for example Kagurazaka street between Iidabashi and Kagurazaka stations in Shinjuku Ward. If you have a favorite Sunday hokousha tengoku spot, let us know in the comments!