The massive Awa Odori Dancing Festival in Tokushima is held every year and is the largest dancing festival in Japan.

During the summer holidays in Japan, I traveled 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 held over 4 days and attracts over 1 million visitors.

This festival is hugely popular, so if you’re keen on going, plan and book well in advance!

UPDATED: March 14, 2014

Awa Odori 2011 sign
The top row of Japanese says “Awa Odori” which means Awa Dance (Festival) and the bottom row says “Ganbarou Nihon” which means do your best Japan. After the earthquake of March 11 you see this last line everywhere…

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.

Video of Awa Odori

Photos and info

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.

Awa Odori dancers prepare
In the late afternoon, dancers prepare at the gate of a local temple.
Awa Odori statue
One of the many statues of the famous festival dancers, in the city of Tokushima.
Dancers prepare
More dancers all dressed up and looking for a place to dance.
Traditional Awa Odori dancers waiting for the Tokushima festival to start.
Taken a few minutes before the dancing started for the evening. These girls in formation were the most impressive dancers.

There are lots of food stalls and souvenir places open. It’s probably best to get fed before the dancing starts.

Japanese food stalls by the river in Tokushima.
Even more beautiful at night, but waaaaaay more packed!

During the dancing

There are two options for watching the dancing:

  1. Free, on the main streets, or
  2. 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…

Awa Odori female dancers
Usually a banner man leads the group. The ladies with their straw hats and traditional dress were so amazing to watch dancing in formation.
Flute players in the traditional Japanese dance festival
…playing a very catchy tune.
Awa Odori lady dancers
The icon of the festival, the female dancers hold their hands up high and tap their feet in formation.
Street in Tokushima with Awa Odori dancing in action
It’s free to watch the dancing on the street.
The precession of dancers at the main stage of Awa Odori
The precession of dancers at the main stage.

Festival dates

The festival takes places on the same dates every year: August 12th to 15th.

How to get to Tokushima for Awa Odori

Awa Odori is held every year in Tokushima City, Tokushima Prefecture, Japan.

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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 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.

Shikoku ferry
Shikoku ferry

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.

Accommodation in Tokushima

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.

Traveler’s Tip

This has been mentioned above, but it’s worth saying again. Book well in advanced. I recommend a tour from Okayama if you’re new to traveling Japan.

Over 1 million people attend this festival over 3 days. If you don’t book in advanced, there won’t even been an empty internet cafe seat to snooze in.


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.