During the summer holidays in Japan, I travelled to see the great Awa Odori (traditional folk dance festival) in Tokushima City, Tokushima Prefecture, on Shikoku (the smallest of the 4 main islands) in Japan. The Awa Dance Festival (阿波踊り) is the largest dancing festival in Japan and over 4 days attracts over 1 million visitors.
This type of festival is held in many cities and towns all over Japan. It is most famous in Tokushima. Dancers wear traditional dress in a festival that dates back 100s of years. The dance itself dates back almost 1000 years, and the festival has its roots in harvest festivals (as this is the time when rice is harvested, a very important time in Japan) and also obon festivals (a festival where people remember their dead ancestors).
Here’s a high-def video I made from the 2011 festival, showing the traditional folk dances.
The festival is held every August for 4 days (from 12th to 15th), so if you’re in Japan in August this is an awesome way to experience Japanese culture and history.
Before the dancing
There are plenty of things to see in Tokushima city before the dancing starts (which starts in the late afternoon, around 6PM it started on the night I was there). You’ll also have a chance to see some of the dancers up close in their traditional dress.
There are lots of food stalls and souvenir places open. It’s probably best to get fed before the dancing starts.
During the dancing
There are two options for watching the dancing:
- Free, on the main streets, or
- Paid at the stages.
As I was on a bus tour, we had tickets for one of the main stages. The groups of dancers parade down a strip, past a panel of judges. At the end of the festival there are various awards for best dancers.
Enough talk, I’ll let the pictures and video speak of the impressiveness and scale of this awesome festival…
Getting to Tokushima for Awa Odori
Awa Odori is held every year in Tokushima City, Tokushima Prefecture, Japan.
Catching the train is always an option. The train takes about 4 hours from Osaka or about 2.5 hours from Okayama. It could get very crowded around the time so perhaps prepare for delays. For information on how to get to Tokushima by train, you can use http://www.hyperdia.com/ to check times and connections.
We took a bus tour from Okayama for the event, which included the bus trip, lunch and seats at the main stage. Okayama is on the mainland, just over the Seto inland sea and its massive bridges. It took a long time to get there, around 6 or 7 hours. We stopped a lot, almost every 30 minutes. We also had a long lunch stop of almost 2 hours, so it didn’t feel like a long trip. The trip home was much quicker, about 4.5 hours.
The bus tour is a really economical option and you won’t have to deal with crowded trains. If you want to take a bus tour, talk to a travel, such as JTB.
If you are planning to stay overnight (I did a day trip only) then you better book far in advanced. Like REALLY far in advanced. Some friends who were dancing in the festival tried to book about 2 months ahead and couldn’t find a place to stay within 30kms. They ended up having a terrible nights sleep (or rest, no sleep was really to be had) in a tiny booth of an internet cafe.
If you don’t book far in advanced, I strongly recommend taking a bus tour or catching the train back to mainland where it will be easier to find a hotel on short notice.
Summer in Japan
This article, video and photos are part of the series of articles about my summer in Japan. Not just a travel diary, the series is full of great things to do in Japan. See all the articles in the series.