One of the best summer festivals in the capital is undoubtedly the massive three day Mitama Matsuri at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo’s Kudanshita. The last few years the festival goers have been entertained by a great Awaodori performance by the local team, Kitanogomonren (北の御門連). The team was founded by and for people living in and near the Iidabashi, Kudanshita and Fujimi ditricts. I took these photos of their performance at Yasukuni Shrine, beautifully (although very sparingly) lit up by the many lanterns of the festival against the backdrop of the blue beams from the twin searchlights.
It is hard to tell in these photos but the evening was exceptionally hot, with daytime temperatures between 34 and 35 degrees celsius (about 93 degrees F). The dancers somehow managed to give us half an hour of concentrated dancing! Their uniforms must have been soaked afterwards.
Winter is hell for us Awaodori dance lovers, if it was not for the only more or less annual winter Awaodori performance in Tokyo’s Dome City I don’t know what I’d do! Every year, as part of the grand Furusato Matsuri event being held inside Tokyo Dome there are a few big Awaodori performances outside, given to the general public visiting the LaQua fairground just next to Tokyo Dome near the Korakuen subway station. This year again it was a combined effort of dancers from the mega stars Suikoren and the Hyottokoren with added assistance from the Minami-Koshigaya Tensuiren. The drum team was even more gifted with guest appearances from quite a few different Tokushima prefecture teams.
The performance is held in the freezing winter evening under the LaQua Mandala Globe, which is made by a Toksushima company and is one millionth the size of the Earth, roughly twelve times ten meters. It is part of the LaQua/Tokyo Dome City winter illuminations program to attract visitors to this fair ground even in the colder month. This year it is set to run until February 16th.
Tokyo Dome City where this event is held is one of Tokyo’s permanent fair grounds, and full of attractions aimed at kids and young couples. Maybe not the first place to visit for the average casual tourist but a given day trip for any family or people who stay a little longer in Tokyo. The other choices for fair grounds would be (to mention a couple) the Hanayasiki at Asakusa or Odaiba.
Although as a dance form, Awaodori has a 400 year long history it was not properly formalized until the first half of the last century and one of the first teams to form that still exists today is the legendary Gojyahei, which formed in 1946. This team is active in the main Awaodori festival down in the southern Tokushima prefecture and when it performs there it can field about 300 dancers and musicians in one go. Here in Tokyo we very rarely get to see teams that are that large or with that kind of fame so naturally I made sure to visit one of their very few guest appearances in Tokyo, at the KITTE in front of Tokyo Station in the Marunouchi district. The performance was absolutely flawless, as can be expected, and much too short for my liking. Even the Tokushima prefecture maskot (Sudachikun すだちくん, after the Tokushima citrus fruit the sudachi) made an appearance and showed remarkable dancing skills for such a plump figure!
The event was part of a promotional campaign for Tokushima prefecture, with performances at the massive Furusato Matsuri in Tokyo Dome as well as several performances by Tokushima teams and local Tokyo teams at Haneda Airpot. I have still never visited Tokushima prefecture, but one day I hope to gather enough courage to do so. In my mind Tokushima prefecture is the most attractive and fantastic of all Japanese prefectures, maybe I am afraid to be disappointed!
Winter is tough for us fans of the traditional folk dance Awaodori, originally from Tokushima but now popular all over the country. It is a summer activity which means that I have spend the rest of the year going over old photos and relying on Youtube to give me that Awaodori fix! All kinds of people do Awodori. There are local teams formed up to promote a local shopping street, or to just help neighbors bond. There are also local teams associated with the big famous Tokushima teams that seem to be only in it for the love of the dance. In almost every festival there are also teams for people with special abilities, like the silver team for people over 65, or teams for deaf dancers, downs syndrome teams, and many others. Some teams are famous and attract fans from all over the region, while others are more obscure, but you wouldn’t easily be able to tell the famous teams from the minor teams, as once they are in the festival they are all celebrated by the crowds. There are also purely corporate teams, like the one in these pictures, the NTT Denwaren (NTTでんわ連), which is set up by employees of one of the national telephone companies (the biggest one in Japan I think). They have about 100 members and were great fun in this year’s massive Koenji Awaodori festival, with over 20 000 dancers and about a million visitors.
You can tell by the photos how hot it was on this year’s festival, the sweat was pouring down their faces! It takes marathon levels of stamina to keep up this sort of dance for two hours straight with almost no breaks. Even the musicians must be exhausted afterwards, I have seen very big fit strong men almost collapsing after the festival after carrying the massive drums, and flutists tend to be pretty exhausted as well. The dancing men and women usually tell of very sore leg muscles! It is unbelievable that there are members performing between the ages of 3 and 99!