This summer, Tokyo is back to buzzing with a familiar rhythm. After a three-year hiatus due to COVID, the Koenji Awa Odori Festival is back in full swing On the 26th and 27th of August 2023.

Photo Credit Koenji Awa Odori Festival
Photo Credit Koenji Awa Odori Festival

The sound of taiko drums and the ‘song of the fools’ is echoing throughout the city streets as it gears up for the much-awaited 64th edition of this iconic festival.

Revival of a Beloved Tradition

Koenji Awa Odori Festival Tokyo
Koenji Awa Odori Festival Tokyo

On August 26th and 27th, the vicinity around JR Koenji station and the Marunouchi Line’s Shin-Koenji station will come alive with the sound of traditional Awa music.

The festival was initiated in 1957 by a single shopping district that aimed to enliven the city. Over time, it expanded into neighboring shopping districts and local communities, becoming a symbolic summer event in Tokyo.

Photo Credit Koenji Awa Odori Festival
Photo Credit Koenji Awa Odori Festival

In recent years, the Koenji Awa Odori Festival has seen 10,000 dancers and over a million cheering spectators, solidifying it as a definitive staple of Tokyo’s summer cultural festivities.

There will be eight performance stages scattered throughout the area: the Central Stage, the East Stage, Pure Love Stage, Pal Stage, Peach Garden Stage, South Stage, Look Stage 1, and Look Stage 2.

What to Expect at the Koenji Awa Odori Festival

Photo Credit Koenji Awa Odori Festival
Photo Credit Koenji Awa Odori Festival

If you’re planning to attend the Koenji Awa Odori Festival for the first time or you’re a returning festival-goer looking to maximize your experience, here’s a quick rundown of what you can expect.

A Dazzling Dance Spectacle

Be swept up in a sea of color, energy, and rhythm as 10,000 dancers take to the streets to perform the traditional Awa Odori. These performers, known as ‘Ren’, are organized into various groups, each with its own distinct style and costumes. The dancers’ energetic movements, coupled with the joyful sounds of shamisen, flutes, and taiko drums, create a spectacle that’s both visually stunning and invigorating.

Street Party Vibes

Koenji Awa Odori Festival Tokyo
Koenji Awa Odori Festival Tokyo

One of the unique aspects of the Koenji Awa Odori Festival is its location. The festival isn’t confined to a single stage or arena; it unfolds throughout the Koenji neighborhood, with performances taking place at eight different stages around the JR Koenji and Shin-Koenji stations. Expect the streets to be buzzing with activity as an estimated one million spectators descend upon Koenji to enjoy the festival.

Bring Your Dancing Shoes

While watching the festival is a joy in itself, the Koenji Awa Odori Festival encourages spectators to get in on the fun. The festival concludes each night with a free-for-all dance where anyone can join in. So don’t be shy—jump in and try your hand (or feet) at the Awa Odori dance!

Local Delights

While the dance performances are the star attraction, the festival is also a fantastic opportunity to explore the local cuisine. Numerous yatai (street food stalls) line the streets, serving up traditional Japanese festival food such as yakitori, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and much more. It’s the perfect way to keep your energy levels high for all that dancing!

History of Koenji Awa Odori

Photo Credit Koenji Awa Odori Festival
Photo Credit Koenji Awa Odori Festival

Before we dive into the dazzling details of this year’s festival, let’s rewind a little and understand where it all started.

The Koenji Awa Odori Festival is a spin-off of the Awa Odori, a traditional folk dance from Tokushima prefecture in Shikoku, the “Awa” region. This dance boasts a history that spans over 400 years, making it one of the oldest and most respected cultural traditions in Japan.

But how did a dance from Shikoku find its way to the bustling streets of Tokyo’s Koenji district?

Back in 1957, a group of local youths decided to shake things up a bit in their shopping district. They wanted to inject some energy and zest into the area, and what better way than to introduce the vibrant Awa Odori dance!

From its humble beginnings, the Koenji Awa Odori Festival has grown in stature and popularity. It now witnesses a whopping 10,000 dancers and over a million spectators, making it a highlight of Tokyo’s summer festivities.

The Awa Odori Song & The Dancing Fools

Koenji Awa Odori Festival Tokyo
Koenji Awa Odori Festival Tokyo

Every great dance has a song, and the Awa Odori is no exception. At the heart of this vibrant festival beats a rhythmic song that fills the air and keeps those feet moving. So what’s the deal with this catchy tune, you ask?

The Song Behind the Dance

The Awa Odori song is a traditional tune known as “Awa Yoshikono,” and it’s integral to the festival experience. This melodic track with its repetitive rhythm serves as the soundtrack to the entire festival. It is played by the hayashi — a group of musicians in each Ren — on traditional Japanese instruments including the shamisen, flute, and taiko drums.

The Lyrics

The song itself is intriguing because it reflects the spirit of the Awa Odori — embracing foolishness and merriment. The lyrics translate to something along the lines of

“It’s a fool who dances and a fool who watches; if both are fools, you might as well dance!”

It’s this carefree, happy-go-lucky attitude that permeates the festival and encourages everyone to let loose, join in, and dance their worries away.

Echoing Through the Streets

Koenji Awa Odori Festival
Koenji Awa Odori Festival

As you wander the streets during the Koenji Awa Odori, you’ll hear the mesmerizing strains of “Awa Yoshikono” echoing through the air, creating an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming along — the song has a way of burrowing into your consciousness and staying there.

The Awa Odori Song is more than just a piece of music; it’s the lifeblood of the festival, connecting dancers and spectators in a shared musical experience. So when you attend the Koenji Awa Odori, listen out for this joyful tune and let it guide your feet — whether you’re a dancing fool or a watching fool, the song reminds us that it’s all about enjoying the moment!

Koenji Awa Odori: Beyond the Borders

The Koenji Awa Odori doesn’t just stop at the streets of Tokyo. The festival has made its mark outside Japan as well, with performances held in Taiwan, America, and Singapore, spreading its wings and the spirit of Awa dance globally.

Not only limited to the festival, but this traditional dance also graces various stages and events throughout the year, keeping the rhythm of Awa alive in people’s hearts all year round.

For all the latest updates about the festival and Awa dance, keep an eye on their social media channels. They’re continuously sharing exciting news and information.

So, there you have it — a little trip down memory lane to understand the roots of this vibrant festival. As we gear up for this year’s Koenji Awa Odori Festival, let’s take a moment to appreciate the rich cultural history and tradition that’s been kept alive through dance and communal celebrations.

The Sum Up

Photo Credit Koenji Awa Odori Festival
Photo Credit Koenji Awa Odori Festival

The Koenji Awa Odori Festival is a perfect example of a community-based event where everyone is welcome to dance, enjoy, and soak in the infectious energy that the festival exudes. Tokyo Koenji Awa Odori Promotion Association aims to continue hosting this festival as a platform for cultivating love for Koenji among dancers, spectators, and local community members.

So as they say. If you’re going to be a fool, you may as well dance, dance, dance!

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