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 (map). 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.
Not every group has a singer, but dancers and musicians will frequently break out into the Awa Yoshikono chant as they parade through the streets:
踊る阿呆に / Odoru ahou ni / The dancers are fools
見る阿呆 / Miru ahou / The watchers are fools
同じ阿呆なら / Onaji ahou nara / Both are fools alike so
踊らな損、損 / Odorana son, son / Why not dance?
During the daytime a restrained dance called Nagashi is performed, but at night the dancers switch to a frenzied dance called Zomeki. As suggested by the lyrics of the chant, spectators are often encouraged to join the dance.
Kōenji (map), an area of Tokyo, also has an Kōenji Awa Odori Festival, modeled on Tokushima’s, which was started in 1956 by urban migrants from Tokushima Prefecture. It is the second largest Awa Dance Festival in Japan, with an average of 188 groups composed of 12,000 dancers, attracting 1.2 million visitors.