Each summer, Tokushima in Shikoku – the smallest of Japan’s four main islands – attracts over a million visitors from across the country to join in on Japan’s largest dance festival, Awa Odori.
Taking place mid-August each year, this vibrant festival is a greatly anticipated part of Obon, the annual celebration held in honour of ancestors’ spirits. But in addition to its connection to the festival of the dead, Awa Odori has its own unique story of origin.
Also known as The Dance of the Fools, Awa Odori is said to have begun in 1586 when the lord who ruled over Tokushima threw a drunken celebration for the opening of the castle. As the city’s people drank – except the Samurai, who were forbidden from attending – they began to dance (and stagger) through the streets. Now, the choreographed dances of the festival’s Ren groups replicate these drunken moves.
To the rhythm and melody of shamisen lute, shinobue flute, taiko drums and the kane bell, dancers and spectators chant, “The dancers are fools; The watchers are fools; Both are fools alike, so why not dance.” And as these words are chanted, it’s no surprise that all spectators are encouraged to join in on the revelry.
Awa Odori is held in Tokushima from 12th to 15th August each year.
All images © Lauren Jade Hill