If you are in Tokyo today you could do worse than to visit the Nakamurabashi Awaodori festival in Nerima Ward. The main event is tonight! I visited the warm up yesterday and I have never seen so many kids in Tokyo in my life. The average age of the people visiting must have been eight or nine. The main main parade takes place along the local shopping street, moving under the train tracks and onto the stage area in front of the station and then to the last bit of the shopping street.
Yesterday there were only a handful of teams taking part in the parade and they were all local Nerima teams. Perhaps the most famous of the Nerima based teams is the Daikonren (だいこん連), after the local vegetable speciality, the daikon, which are said to be especially delicious grown around here. These days though, Nerima ward being almost three times as densely populated as London there is not much space left for farmland. Daikonren has a very special mix of members which you can’t tell from just seeing them – many of them are deaf or have hearing impairments and many of them communicate in sign language, a very convenient skill to have when giving instructions to team members on the other side of a very very noisy stage or parade ground!
To get to Nakamurabashi station from central Tokyo, go to Ikebukuro station and change there to the Seibuikebukuro line, get on a “local” train (not the fastest but most convenient). There are also connecting services on the Yurakucho line but they’ll be a little bit trickier to find for the non-Japanese speaking tourist.
If you go tonight you can also see (among many others) the Koganeisakuraren who have put up a very handy information pdf on their website (all in Japanse I’m afraid).
At the Koenji Awodori festivals there are so many teams, called “ren” taking part that you will never be able to see them all, so either you find a spot where you can see as many of your favorite teams as possible (the teams starting positions are released well ahead of the festival start) or you run from position to position to see only your favorite teams. The latter strategy is not recommended, because not only will you always be several rows of people removed from the front but you’ll also risk missing teams that are ahead or behind schedule.
One of my all time favorite teams is the Tensuiren, who happens to have one of the best drum sections of any team I have ever seen. Their drummers are absolutely amazing, and this year I was lucky enough to have all members of the drum section stop right in front of me and perform one of their drum battles! I can tell you I was not the only member of the audience with goose bumps after that! The tensuiren sometimes have several members from Saipan, an island under American jurisdiction in Micronesia in the Pacific Island. I have seen these young men and women over the years and every time I see them they have gotten better. This time they were so good as to be indistinguishable from the native Japanese members of one of the best teams in Tokyo! That is a feat not to take lightly. I really hope I can seem them soon again.
And if you want to see more of Tensuiren, here is a blogpost from 2010. You’ll recognize some of the kids from this year’s performance!
Yesterday I forewent my usual visit to the second day of the Koenji Awaodori or the Otsuka Awaodori and instead went up to Minamikoshigaya in Saitama prefecture north of Tokyo. I don’t get many chances or reasons to visit the city so on top seeing one of the more famous Awaodori festivals I also get to throw in some sightseeing! There are four major parade grounds on this huge festival attracting about 70 different teams from all over Japan. The grounds are all four lane streets so there’s plenty of space for the dancers and the city throws in sheeting for anyone to sit on along the parade grounds, making this the ideal Awaodori festival for families with kids. There’s also two different stages, one informal stage where you can get right up next to the dancers and one bigger proper stage where I took these photos of the Kimuraren (きむら連). Good lighting, good sound, and a great chance for all the teams to show what they have really been practicing all those winter months!
This festival is a three day event and well worth putting into your calendar for next year, especially if you live in Saitama!
This weekend is heaven for Awaodori fans, not quite like being down in Tokushima and seeing the real thing but nevertheless, I think there must be something up to 25 000 dancers and musicians taking part in three large Awaodori festivals in Tokyo on this weekend, the peak of the dancing festivals! The biggest of them all is the massive Koenji festival with hundreds of thousands of visitors to each of the two days and over 10 000 dancers per day. There are so many places to go and so much to see that no two people will have similar experiences of this massive festival. I took these snapshots of a few different teams passing by in rapid procession, the Suzakuren (朱雀連), The Post office team (Yubinkyokuren, 郵便局連), the Yuukaren (遊夏連), the Hanamichiren (花道連), the Hiyokoren (ひよこ連), the Miyuren (みゆう連) and last the famous Sharakuren (写楽連)! The symbol of the Hiyokoren being the little yellow chicken or duck, can you spot the duck coming up behind their grim looking drummer? I always look for this guy when I see the Hiyokoren!
The Koenji Awaodori festival’s second night it tonight, so if you have time and are in town you really must go! Remember the golden rules of the Koenji festival:
1. The further away from the station the less crowded it gets.
2. The Koenji station is packed beyond belief so go early and follow the directions of the station staff and police. If you need it, get your return ticket as you arrive.
3. Never walk too close to a performing group. Never ever pass one of the groups performing, it is very rude to them and the people who are lined up to watch. If you are in a hurry, use the parallel streets, they are almost empty and you won’t bother anyone. You’ll get to where you want much quicker! You will see many people walking around next to, in front of or even in the middle of teams but those people have probably never heard of karma. Terrible things will happen to them in this life or the next.
4. Do cheer your favorite teams.
5. Do cheer teams that look tired!
6. Arrive early, a couple of hours if you want to eat and enjoy the crowds, several hours early if you want to stake out a place where you can actually sit down and watch the dancers.
7. Watch out for the drummers. Sometimes their sticks can reach quite a lot further than you think!
8. Do support the local stores and tradespeople by eating and drinking in their shops or of what they sell!
I might have forgotten a few golden rules but never mind! Enjoy the festivals tonight!