Things we love #6 – Awa Odori ( The “Fools” dance)

Awa danceThe “fools” dance – The name doesn’t sound so appealing when translated to English but trust me, that’ll be the last thing you’ll think of when you actually see this dance. It’s THAT good.  But what’s the purpose of this dance ?

Well, Awa Odori came from the tradition of Bon Odori which is a part of the Obon festival. Lets break it down a little – the Obon festival in August is the time when the spirits of the ancestors are believed to return and visit their living relatives and the Awa dance is in the celebration of their return. Some also say that this tradition started in 1586 when a feudal lord – “Lord Hachisuka” –  decided to throw a party to celebrate the completion of his castle. His guests got so drunk that the began flailing their arms around dancing. This was then made an annual event.

The Dancer’s costumes

The dancers wear traditional costumes. The costumes are very simple yet beautiful. The males ( and sometimes the females) wear  happi (loose fitting cotton coat) , tabi (socks) and scarves around their heads and carry fans while the females wear colorful yukata (cotton kimono), tabi, geta ( wooden sandals) and amigasa (straw hats).   While we find the more elegant kimonos insanely beautiful , these costumes were charming !

Why we like Awa Odori ?

Awa Odori Tokushima Ren - Nisei Week 2013
The first time we saw the Awa Odori being performed was in Osu Kannon – August of 2013. We’d just arrived in Japan and we were naturally curious to explore and shop bigsmile . So there were – well shopping – and we heard these  chants followed by a group of women dancing with strange gestures. They were led by a few men who were also dancing and were followed by a few people, both men and women, playing some instruments.

The chants, which we later learned was sort of like musical cheer leading went something like – “Yoi Yoi”, “Yattosa  Yattosa”, “Hayaccha yaccha” – we think there were a few more chants but these were the only ones we understood.  The song that accompanies these chants is called the Awa Yoshikono.

” O doru aho ni miru aho, onaji ahonara odorana son son  – which translates into – the dancers are fools, the watchers are fools if both are fools then why not dance. They sing this while parading through the streets.

Awa no dono sama hachisuka-kou ga ima ni nokoseshi awa odoriwhich translates into  – Lord Hachisuka left us the Awa odori for the present day. This is sung during the stationary dance.

We loved the simplicity of the costumes and the dance. But even though the dance looked simple, we’d imagine that dancing in geta would be anything but. Even the men’s moves are different and equally difficult. It takes a lot of practice to dance like that. Though the chants were hard to understand, we still wanted to repeat after them because it just seemed like so much fun!

Famous Awa Odori festivals :

1. Tokushima Awa Odori :

Awa is the feudal name of Tokushima Prefecture. And since this festival is believed to have been started by their feudal lord, it is a pretty big deal there. This is one of the biggest festival dances held across Japan. People come from all over Japan to dance in this festiveal.  Watching the thousands of dancers parade through in their colorful costumes is a sight to behold.

2. Koenji Awa Odori :

The Awa odori was started in Tokyo by migrants from Tokushima. Now, it has become a huge event in which more than 200 dance groups participate. Though its not as big as the Tokushima festival, its still amazing to watch.

And as a treat for you anime lovers :

Golden Time

The anime Golden time has an episode where the characters practice for awa odori.  Its a great anime – so give it a watch!



   Your Thoughts… 

Have you seen Awa dance? What did you like about it? Let us know in the comments below. smile

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