Last Saturday saw the one day only, once a year Kitamachi Awaodori Festival in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, just next to Tobu-Nerima Station. Kitamachi is the original heart of the modern day Nerima Ward and it was one of the biggest way stations on the Edo period highway between Edo (ancient Tokyo) and Kawagoe to the north in Saitama prefecture. At these way stations transports of goods, people and information was made easier by the reserves of men and horses standing by and the way station in Kitamachi was famous for being able to provide a full compliment of horses unlike other way stations that often had to call for help from neighboring villages when large groups or big transports came through. This pride in their horses and the local people’s skill in taming them became the base for the modern name of the ward, Nerima (練馬).
The old highway is perfectly suitable for festivals and parades like the Awaodori summer festivals being organized every year around Tokyo. I saw many teams, some new, some familiar, some famous and some peculiar ones. One of the most famous must be the Shinoburen who did a great performance despite the weather. The end of July is usually one of the hottest periods of the year in Tokyo and temperatures stay in the mid thirties well in to the night making the three hours of dancing extremely hard on the performers. I have even seen members of the audience drop down from the heat and all they did was sitting down and enjoying the show! Despite Kitamachi being one of the physically most demanding Awaodori festivals in Tokyo it remains popular with especially the locals.
Last night saw the start of the fantastic Kagurazaka Awaodori Festival, the third day in four day Kagurazaka Matsuri. The last day is tonight with the kid’s teams performing from 1800 to 1900 and then the adult’s teams from 1900 to 2100. You can get to Kagurazaka from either Iidabashi station, Ushigome Kagurazaka or Kagurazaka stations. The further up you go on the street the fewer people you are likely to have to fight for a good spot with, so if it seems to crowded down hill just keep walking to the second area of the festival!
Last night I took these photos of the always fantastic Tenguren and their little Kotenguren kids. I can’t get enough of this team! Even though Awaodori dance is traditionally from Tokushima Prefecture there are dozens of great teams here in Tokyo!
If you have free time in Tokyo tonight and are not too afraid of a little rain I recommend visiting Kyodo for their fantastic Awaodori festival, complete with a parade and stage set. Actually it is part of a two day local town festival which ties in with the Tokyo University of Agriculture, so rather than the normal shrine celebrations you will get everything from folk dance (mainly Saturday) to samba (on the Sunday). You can get more details from their homepage (in Japanese only) but generally the Awaodori kicks in from 1830 to 1900 on Saturday. I have never seen the samba carnival my self but it looks fantastic and starts at 1830 on Sunday. There is stuff happening from 1430 on Saturday and from 1400 on Sunday so even if you can’t stay for the whole thing it is worth going and just enjoying the atmosphere.
Here are some photos of the proud local team, the Kyodo Murasakiren (経堂むらさき連) who will be performing with eight other, all relatively well known Tokyo teams, including a couple of my personal favorites.
Awaodori festival season has started and one of the bigger festivals of the summer is the Shimokitzawa Awaodori festival. It’s a two day event, on the 9th and 10th of August, from 18:30 to 20:30. The narrow streets of Shimokitazawa makes for a very intimate and friendly festival where the audience is very close to the dancers. The drummers especially can be dangerous so it is usually best to stand back a little.
I saw the Yattokoren at last year’s festival, one of the local Shimokitazawa teams. The shotengai, or shopping street, where the festival takes place is called Ichibangai which has been place of commerce since the 1920s and really grew big after the second world war as most if survived the bombings and many merchants from other areas flocked to Shimokitazawa. The Awaodori festival was started in 1966 and this year’s festival will be the 49th.
Shimokitazawa is a great place to hang out and there’s plenty of shops and unique little restaurants and alleys to explore, so if you have time in August this year, make sure to visit!
The festival has an English homepage here.