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Awa Odori Festival

by Bruce Takeo Akizuki
Tokushima, Japan

Awa Odori Women Dancers. All photos by Bruce Takeo Akizuki.
Awa Odori Women Dancers.
photos by Bruce Takeo Akizuki.

Awa Odori Women Dancers.
Awa Odori Women Dancers.

Awa Odori Group Dancing.
Awa Odori Group Dancing.

Awa Odori Men Dancing.
Awa Odori Men Dancing.

Awa Odori Teacher.
Awa Odori Teacher.

Bruce Akizuki is a community-based photographer and the founder of Community Images, a grass roots community-based photography collective based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

These photographs are from the 2002 Awa Odori Festival August 15th in Tokushima, Japan

Odoru aho ni miru aho!
Onaji aho nara odorama son son!
Dancers are fools; lookers-on are fools!
If both are fools, why not be dancing fools!
Aaaa-ra, e-rai yatcha!
E-rai yatcha!
Yoi yoi yoi yoi!

This is the chant from the famous Awa Odori Festival held in Tokushima, Japan every August 12-15. Every year tens of thousands of people, both young and old, energetically dance waving hands, to the accompaniment of this song with shamisen, drums, bells, and flutes.

The dance origin dates back to 1587 when the feudal lord Hachisuka Iemasa (1558-1638), in celebration of newly-built Tokushima Castle, offered sake to the people of the castle town. The citizens became so drunk they started to dance unsteadily.

In modern times the event is indebted to the indigo merchants in the mid 19th century who cornered 80% of the indigo market in Japan. They sponsored the dancing event to entertain their customers, while the common people needed a cultural outlet for the higher taxes leveled upon them.

The Awa Odori dance is characterized by irregular steps and by the jovial and energetic up-tempo rhythm similar to the Brazilian samba. Groups of men and women are separated as they parade through the city while dancing to music played on drums, gongs, three-stringed Japanese musical instruments, and flutes.

In my personal opinion, the Awa Odori is one the best festivals in Japan because it captures Japanese people's spirit with its community participation and it's soulful rhythm and movements.

The Awa Odori Festival is definitely an event worth traveling to as a foreigner or as a Japanese national. It is a festival worth return to.

Also see:

Published in In Motion Magazine February 23, 2010

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