Last night was the start of the annual Awaodori Matsuri at Shibuya ward’s Hatsudai, just next to Shinjuku. The festival started just as the rain started falling but after a few minutes the rains subsided and the festival could start of for real. Hatsudai is home to a few awaodori dance teams, the most famous being the Hatsudairen. Since yesterday was an ordinary weekday here in Tokyo most of the teams were smaller than usual but today is a public holiday and the teams should be back in full strength! This is the last of the major Tokyo awaodori festivals so here is your chance!
The festival is easily reached by the Toei Shinjuku Line, south exit.
I hadn’t been to many bonodori festivals this summer so I was happy to find one scheduled for the final night of the large Hikawa Shrine festival in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. The bonodori is a rather complicated dance with music that makes it sound very like Sunday matinee movie from the late 1940s. It takes place around a raised podium where a taiko drummer helps keep the rhythm and it is usually performed in the traditional summer dress of Japan, the yukata (think kimono light). In a land with many dances and tradition thousands of years old it is good to see that new traditions are still slowly being grown, like this kind of dance. I imagine people in 1000 years will be dancing this to the exact same music and with the same movements as we do today.
As many bonodori festivals I have been to, this must surely be the most perfect. The space is not too large, not too small, and above all, it takes place under the trees! The red lanterns combine with the canopy of leaves to create a once in a lifetime perfect “room” for the dance to take place. I might be the only one to notice, but such perfection leaves me in tears these days. When I imagine the ideal bonodori location, this was it. I just didn’t know it really existed. I know bonodori ranks very low on the list of exciting festivals to see or experience, even for local Japanese, but if you are into it, this is the one to visit. It usually starts on the Sunday of the festival at 1830, but music starts much earlier, usually at 17300, and the drummers are always there early to warm up.
The Hikawa Shrine (氷川神社) in Minato Ward (there are hundreds all over Japan) is easily accessible from Akasaka, Tameikesanno, Nogizaka, Roppongi or Roppongi Ichome stations.
At the first evening of the annual Mitaka Awaodori festival last weekend I saw the fabulous Hachamecharen (波奴連) perform their set piece right at the end of the parade ground. Easily one of the best spots to enjoy this great festival. This group is based in western Tokyo’s Musashi Koganei. As with most local teams (teams that have strong roots in a location rather then being corporate based or traditional) their home turf performances are considerably larger than when they are “away”. If you were to see them at the annual Koganei Awaodori festivel you’d find there would be many more of them! Still, size is never a criteria in Awaodori, just spirit and dedication, and this group has both of that. I am already looking forward to next year’s Awaodori season even though this year’s season isn’t over yet.
Tonight is the second night of the annual Mitaka Awaodori festival in Tokyo’s western Mitaka City (三鷹市). It start at 1800 but there is usually a couple of performances earlier in the day as well. Right now is just about the perfect timing for a festival, the weather is unbelievably cool for being Tokyo in August so you won’t have to sweat it out as much as usual! I was at the festival last night and it was as fun as usual. The crowds are thickest closer to the station so just keep walking and it will thin out a little at the end of the festival area. I saw my old favorites the Mitakaren (みたか連), and two new favorites for this year, Bikkuriren (びっくり連) and Fudouren (富道連) whom I have somehow missed all these years. I also saw Sakuraren who were just as good as always!
Mitaka city is easily accessible on the JR Chuo line, and the festival is near the south exit of the station. Enjoy!