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Festivals of Japan: Tokushima Awa Odori Folk Dance Festival

The Awa Odori Folk Dance Festival is a traditional event that has been passed down through the generations.

By 3 min read

The Awa Odori Folk Dance Festival is one of Japan’s largest and most famous dance festivals. Teams of dancers hit the streets to perform bon dances to mark the obon period in mid-August, a time when it is believed the departed souls of our ancestors return to this world.

The festival is held in Tokushima City, Tokushima Prefecture on the southern island of Shikoku. Tokushima which is famous for the Naruto whirlpools comes alive every August 12 to 15 for the festival.

The Awa Odori Folk Dance Festival is a traditional event that has been passed down through the generations. The origins of the dance date back more than 400 years, and it grew out of the tradition of the Bon Odori, which is danced as part of the Obon celebrations in Japan.

Obon festivities in Tokushima have been famous for their size, exuberance and anarchy since the 16th century, when it is believed the feudal lord threw a huge drunken street party to celebrate the newly built Tokushima Castle. The locals must have had fun because it soon became an annual event. The festival is held every year from August 12 to 15 as part of the area’s Obon Festival.

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Festival Highlights

The Awa Odori Folk Dance Festival gives you the chance to celebrate and participate in a Japanese summer tradition that has taken part for hundreds of years. The city-wide dance party is a unique experience and one that you will not soon forget.

The highlight of the festival has to be the traditional folk dancing called ‘Awa Odori’. Awa is the feudal name for Tokushima, while odori means dance in Japanese. Every night during the festival men, women and children put on their yukata (light summer kimono) and straw hats to take to the streets and dance to the rhythm of the song ‘Awa Yoshikono’. The music is wonderfully accompanied by the sound of shamisen, taiko drums and shinobue flutes.

It is like one massive street party that lasts well into the night and everyone is more than welcome to join in on the fun. The traditional Awa Odori song ‘Awa Yoshikono’ playfully goes, “The dancers are fools / The watchers are fools / Both are fools alike, so / Why not dance?” If that is not a cue to jump right in and join the dancing then I don’t know what is.

Most of the festivities take place in downtown Tokushima. The main spectacle takes place between 6:00 pm and 10:30 pm when groups of dancers perform in blocked off streets in the downtown area. There are also seven different stage areas for the dance groups to perform in the festival zone.

The Awa Odori Folk Dance Festival is one of the biggest and most entertaining festivals in Japan. Come along and join one of the best dance festivals you will ever experience.

Festival Information

Location: Tokushima City, Tokushima Prefecture
When: August 12 – 15
Time: Main spectacle is from 6:00 pm to 10:30 pm
Cost: FREE (Paid seating is available in four stage areas in the festival zone)

From Tokyo or Osaka, take the Tokaido / Sanyo Shinkansen to Okayama. From Okayama, take a rapid train to Takamastu. From Takamatsu, you can take a limited express train to Tokushima.

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