It is winter and the toughest thing about this season for me is to survive without visiting any Awaodori dance festivals! Thankfully I have Youtube to see me through the winter, with thousands of videos of my favorite teams. Here are some photos from the Minamikoshigaya Awaodori Festival (南越谷阿波踊り) in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo. This might be the second biggest Awaodori festival in the Kanto area, and it usually takes place at the same time as the biggest one, the Koenji Awaodori Festival in Tokyo, something which is really annoying for us Awa fans. The festival in Saitama attracts some fantastic teams, even some genuine Tokushima teams that we generally never see in this part of country, so it is well worth skipping one day of the Koenji festival to check this one out as well. The festival itself is quite different from other Awaodori festivals as the streets used a two or three times as wide as the widest Tokyo streets, so the ambience and the photography is quite different. Being used to being so close to the dancers that you can see every drop of sweat, the Koshigaya festival takes some getting used to.
I took these photos of some beautiful members of several different teams, the Koushoukai Asunaroren (工匠会あすなろ連), the Inaseren (いなせ連), the Hibuki (飛舞伎), the Miyabiren (雅連) and the Hokushinren (北辰連). I can’t wait for next summer to come around!
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!
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!
Often finding the best photo opportunities in Japan is just a matter of luck. And a keen sense of hearing. I had been up to see the festival at the Yoyogihachiman Shrine near Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, and was on my way towards Hatsudai when I picked up the sound of a very familiar flute and turned back. It was one of my favorite Awaodori teams, the Hatsudairen (初台連), preparing to receive their blessing at the shrine before the evening’s Awaodori festival in Hatsudai. They went in with guns blazing, that is, in full gear and with flutes and drums, dancing all their way up the very steep and tall stone stairs that lead up to the shrine on the hill. I have never seen an Awaodori troupe perform like this before so it was great fun for me to watch, maybe less fun to battle those stairs while dancing! The route led them towards the main shrine where they gathered up to receive a private blessing by the young priest of the shrine, waving the ceremonial white papers over the group. The men all took their headgear off, of course, but the onnaodori, the women dancers with the folded straw hats got to keep their on. It’s not an easy headgear to take off, as far as I have seen.
I love these moments when I just luck out and happen onto something cool and interesting.