Tokyobling's Blog

Takarabune at Kagurazaka Awaodori Festival

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on July 27, 2015

At the 44th Kagurazaka Awaodori Festival in Tokyo’s Shinkjuku Ward I managed to catch the final performance and grande finale of Takarabune giving one of their usual spirited performances. They have recently spent quite a lot of time promoting Japan and Japanese culture abroad and it is good to have them back in Tokyo! Always a crowd pleaser, I absolutely recommend trying to catch this excellent team for the mood, the atmosphere and the smiles!


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16 Responses

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  1. NihonInLondon said, on July 27, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    Omg I saw these guys in an event called Hyper Japan in London not too long ago! Their show was really amusing and great to watch.


    • tokyobling said, on July 28, 2015 at 4:36 am

      They are great fun! (^-^) Did not know you had been back to Old Europe!


  2. Mikku said, on July 28, 2015 at 2:43 am

    Definitely one of the more entertaining teams I’ve seen, with some really good performances at the Shimokitazawa awaodori. Where have they been performing abroad?


  3. V. Alarcón-Córdoba said, on July 28, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Gorgeous festival! How many festivals do you have in Japan, every week?


    • tokyobling said, on July 29, 2015 at 1:50 am

      Thank you! I don’t think anyone ever counted, but I saw the figure 200 once in a text, I doubt it is accurate though!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. nocturnaltwins said, on July 29, 2015 at 2:32 am

    Love the first picture, I think you captured the body movement at their peak, good eye contact and a smile too!


  5. grittymonkey said, on August 3, 2015 at 1:53 am

    Great pictures as always 🙂

    You seem to be shooting close to the action, do you need a special permit to come that close?


    • tokyobling said, on August 3, 2015 at 7:23 am

      Thank you!

      That is an interesting question, and for the benefit of several viewers I will answer a little bit more at length than I usually do.

      In these photos I am close to the action because it is the last 30 minutes of the festival, in which (mostly, but not at all festivals) the festivals allow the teams to stop their parading and perform a set piece at pre determined spot. This is why you always see so many photographers running like mad around 20:28-20:29 to find the team they really want to shoot. At these end of the parade set performances you can get as close as the team will allow you by just getting there early enough to get the best spot before it starts. If you are not sure you can ask them which way they will be facing as you are more likely to enjoy the show if you are facing them. You do not need any special permit for this. The spots are on a first come first serve basis and you just hunker down where you can (to make sure the people in the back get good views as well).

      Now, for the parade part of the festivals you will see various men and women running around with cameras. In the Good Old Days (2-3 years ago) the ratio was roughly one permit holder photographer per team, so it was barely tolerable. But recently there has been a surge in the number of permits issued, which means that some teams will be swarmed by up to five or six photographers at once, each one with a precious permit and an Ego the size of the Graf Hindenburg. Needless to say, anyone with social graces will not be able to see much of that performance. The problem is that the permit is to allow designated photographers to stick to one team, get the photos they want by occasionally entering the the Embujo (performace space) and getting out as soon as they are done. That is the theory. In practice the permit holders more often than not take the liberty to just hang around in the performance space, fiddling with their cameras, hovering around their favorite (prettiest) dancers or just being in the way of everyone, including other photographers, performers and the poor people we always forget – the audience! The photographers (including me) do not have any special permissions to be obnoxious, we are just supposed to blend in with the audience. Some photographers take a great pride in scouting out the best locations (backdrops, timing, street lighting, curvature of roads etc.) and you can imagine the irritation it breeds when permit holders think they have a right to hang out there at the expense of everyone else.

      Well, I shant dwell on it too much, but as some teams have pointed out to me recently: the best teams perform to the sides, at an angle towards the audience. You might not get that full frontal shot you want by only hanging out with the rest us at the sidelines, but you will get the full festival experience, and the attention of any performer on the your side of the Embujo (performance space) by flashing them your most handsome smile and holding up your camera! Of all the Awaodori photos I have taken over the years, by far the best have been taken with my 16-35mm from the sidelines. I have done a couple of “requests” with the use of a permit, but only with the intention of getting the best photos for the team that I was with at the time.

      Sorry for all this, but like I said earlier on, I am writing this for everyone, you probably knew all of this already.


      • grittymonkey said, on August 3, 2015 at 7:36 am

        This is great information, thank you! I’m planning on going to the Shimokitazawa awa odori this week-end, will stick around until the end thanks to your advice


        • tokyobling said, on August 3, 2015 at 7:55 am

          In that case I have more information for you! The festival actually starts several hours before the stated times on the posters and websites as local teams gives really wonderful performances (still fresh!!) at set locations. These locations vary, but I usually turn up for lunch and just hang around until I see them gather at some (parking spot or whatever) place and prepare for a show. For me it is a full day and evening event! Once the action starts the crowds thin out the further away you get from the stations and again the further away you get from the starting points. Some end zone are almost completely depopulated, so if you want to get good frontal shots you go for one of these end zones. Where the end zones are is obvious from the maps handed out at the station before the festival. In the middle of it all is where the teams are the most energetic but if you not a fan of jostling with a hundred other photographers and not want to bother the audience you hang around at the end zones. That way you can actually move around a little. At the popular spots in the middle there will be so many people you will feel like you are trying to shoot synchronized swimming in the Yamanote Line at rush hour!

          Of course, there is also a charm to be had in shooting in the thick of it. Some teams are wildly popular and almost impossible to get close to during the final 30 minutes, like the Shinoburen who have the biggest audiences I think:

          Other teams like the Takarabune have almost as many spectators at the end of the festival:

          Most of the other minor or non-local teams are not nearly as crowded early on, so use the parade part of the festival to note which team you want to see more of, check out where they are performing then make sure you are there at least 5 minutes early to get a good spot. Sometimes the audience do not even know there is going to be performance at 20:30 so they are all on their way home when the team starts up and suddenly everyone just zooms up close and the empty street can be filled up within 20 seconds!


  6. Mikku said, on August 12, 2015 at 10:02 am

    I could only go on Saturday evening but as always, it was a great night and Takarabune were excellent, though for a change I saw a different team for the final, end-of-the-night performance. Brilliant stuff!

    That was a really interesting read about the behind the scenes (or should that be behind the lens) information on permits, etc. I won’t name any names or places to avoid offending anyone (and I hasten to add, I don’t think it was you) but the other weekend I attended one of my favourite awa odoris and was both angry and disappointed by the over-zealous actions of the photographers (and I have to say, they were non-Japanese) who were there. Basically, they were running around and in between the dancers, blocking spectators views and seemingly oblivious to the thoughts of anyone or anything else other that getting “the shot”. I have to say, I was embarrassed to be a foreigner and it tainted what was otherwise a great day. Such a shame.

    Anyway, rant over with, do you happen to know if there are any awa odori this coming Saturday evening (15th), either in Tokyo or Kanagawa, or has everyone gone down to Tokushima? Thanks!


    • tokyobling said, on August 13, 2015 at 2:43 am

      Regarding the 15th, yes, it is pretty much silent in the Kanto region this weekend. There is one team performing in Gunma (too far for you I think) but strangely enough two excellent teams, Kikusuiren and Tenguren are performing at a minor festival in Fussa, far western Tokyo: 中神阿波踊り, on the 16th.

      There are a lot of great teams at Kagurazaka, it used to be my favorite Awa festival in Tokyo but I will not go anymore. Neither did I go to any of the other festivals (except Shimokitazawa last weekend whom as far as I know do not issue permits). As you pointed out (so diplomatically!) the permit issuing and the photography has gotten out of hand. It is absolutely embarrassing and rather than get upset about the problem, at every festival from now on till God knows when, I will just stop going to the festivals that issue permits or are laissez faire about enforcing the performance space integrity.

      But you do not need to take only my word for it, there is a good English language blog about Awaodori that has recently touched on the subject. The author’s viewpoints are a little bit different than mine, mainly because he has a 100% performer perspective on the subject/problem, but essentially we share the same fundamental stance on festival photography/performance space integrity. Read it here:

      I seriously doubt the offending parties read either of these blogs though, but hopefully festival management will notice the problem and act. “This is why we can’t have nice things.” Indeed.


  7. Mikku said, on August 14, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    Thanks for the festival info and link to that blog. Have a good weekend and keep up the good work!!!


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