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Awa Odori – Overview

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A display of Awa Odori during the 2009 Hana Haru Festa.

A display of Awa Odori during the 2009 Hana Haru Festa.

No description of Tokushima would be complete without mention of Awa Odori. This famous dance has been the subject of many stories, poems, movies and photographic series over the years, and is part and parcel of life in Tokushima Prefecture.

Awa Odori, otherwise known as ‘awa dance’ or the ‘fools dance’, is one of the largest festivals on Shikoku, and one of the three biggest o-bon dance festivals in all of Japan. Held each year over four days from August 12 to August 15 , over 1,300,000 people are estimated as coming to Tokushima to partake in the festive spirit. The dance itself has over 400 years of history, and while there are many different  as to how it began, there are no doubts as to what it is today – big, bright, loud, and most of all, a lot of fun.

While the dancing takes place all across the prefecture and each town and city has its fair share of dancing troupes, the main attraction is in Tokushima City. Over the four days of the festival the entire city gets swept up in awa odori fever, and streets are closed to make way for dancing  stages, bright lanterns adoring every twist and turn.

Awa Odori Instruments
There are six instruments used in awa odori. Namely, the shamisen (三味線), shimari daiko (締太鼓), oodaiko (大太鼓), flute (笛 – fue), and bell (鐘 – kane). Collectively, the people in charge of playing accompaniment for awa odori are known as narimono (鳴り物) and take up position at the very rear of the dancing troupe as they move through dancing areas.

The Yoshikono
The core music of Awa Odori is a tune known as the yoshikono. Made famous by the nationally renowned shamisen player O-Koi , it is played in a variety of different styles and is often arranged to fit certain performances of the dance, and special characteristics of each dancing troupe.

Awa Odori Dancers wait for their turn on stage.

Awa Odori Dancers wait for their turn on stage.

Awa Odori Catch Calls
While the yoshikono is the main tune for the dance, there exist a wide variety of catch calls that are sung by the dancers as they perform. The most famous of these, and perhaps the most representative, is below.

Odoru aho ni miru aho
Onaji aho nara
Odoranya son son

The common translation of this is “dancing fools and watching fools are fools the same, so why not dance!”


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