What is awaodori
The Awa Dance Festival (阿波踊り, Awa Odori) is held from 12 to 15 August as part of the Obon festival in Tokushima Prefecture on Shikoku in Japan. Awa Odori is the largest dance festival in Japan, attracting over 1.3 million tourists every year.
Groups of choreographed dancers and musicians known as ren (連) dance through the streets, typically accompanied by the shamisen lute, taiko drums, shinobue flute and the kane bell. Performers wear traditional obon dance costumes, and chant and sing as they parade through the streets.
The earliest origins of the dance style are found in the Japanese Buddhist priestly dances of Nembutsu-odori and hiji-odori of the Kamakura period (1185–1333), and also in kumi-odori, a lively harvest dance that was known to last for several days.
The Awa Odori festival grew out of the tradition of the Bon Odori which is danced as part of the Bon “Festival of the Dead”, a Japanese Buddhist celebration where the spirits of deceased ancestors are said to visit their living relatives for a few days of the year. The term “Awa Odori” was not used until the 20th century, but Bon festivities in Tokushima have been famous for their size, exuberance and anarchy since the 16th century.
A dancer wearing an amigasa hat in Koenji, August 2009
Awa Odori’s independent existence as a huge, citywide dance party is popularly believed to have begun in 1586 when Lord Hachisuka Iemasa, the daimyō of Awa Province hosted a drunken celebration of the opening of Tokushima Castle. The locals, having consumed a great amount of sake, began to drunkenly weave and stumble back and forth. Others picked up commonly available musical instruments and began to play a simple, rhythmic song, to which the revelers invented lyrics.
1. The bon-odori may be danced for only three days.
2. Samurai are forbidden to attend the public celebration. They may dance on their own premises but must keep the gates shut. No quarrels, arguments or other misbehaviour are allowed.
3. The dancing of bon-odori is prohibited in all temple grounds.
This suggests that by the 17th century, Awa’s bon-odori was well established as a major event, lasting over three days—long enough to be a major disruption to the normal functioning of the city. It implies that samurai joined the festival alongside peasants and merchants, disgracing themselves with brawling and unseemly behaviour. In 1674, it was “forbidden for dancers or spectators to carry swords (wooden or otherwise), daggers or poles In 1685 revelers were prohibited from dancing after midnight and dancers were not allowed to wear any head or face coverings, suggesting that there were some serious public order concerns.