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.
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.
I don’t know about your country, but just sometimes even amateur folk dance troupes get the rock star treatment! It happened at the end of the Awaodori festival in Tokyo’s Shimokitzawa district last weekend, the Shinoburen from Koenji performed their set piece on barely enough ground to walk on, let alone dance. There were just so many people crowded around to catch the set. People cheered, clapped and shouted encouragement to the dancers as they braved near record levels of heat to entertain us. It must be great to be the center of all that love and energy! If you have ever seen an Awaodori street performance like this you will know what I mean when I say that I was enjoying the buzz from an Awodori high! Granted, Shinoburen is one of the bigger and more famous teams in Tokyo, but I dare say they have some of the most dedicated fans! I really can’t wait for the huge Koenji festival in Tokyo at the end of this month. Just a few more days to go…!
This weekend we saw some of the highest temperatures we have seen in Tokyo for many years. At least I can’t remember any weekend that has been hotter than this. Other parts of Japan were hotter! Walking outside in these temperatures is like walking into a wall of heat. The air inside your clothes is cooler than the air outside so you can actually feel the heat as you walk around. And then when the heat reaches your skin the sweat starts running…! All in all, not the best conditions for a two hour dance parade! Still, the annual and fantastic Awaodori festival in Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa town took place as usual, with several teams braving the heat to perform the traditional dance and music from the southern Tokushima prefecture. The heat had drained the energy levels of several participants but still they did fantastically, especially the famous Shinoburen (忍連), whom I have blogged about before here and here. These guys are really dedicated. If you visit the huge Awaodori festival in Koenji at the end of this month you might be lucky enough to see them perform!