Awa Odori / 阿波踊り

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Awa Odori Dance Festival. Tokushima

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. Awa is the old feudal administration name for Tokushima Prefecture, and odori means “dance”.

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.

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.

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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.

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 BUS >   Tokushima Bus serviceShikoku Kotsu Bus serviceJR Bus service.

Buses are plentiful in Japan, and over the last few decades they have evolved into a major mode of intercity transportation, especially for overnight travel. Major operators of intercity include JapanBuslines.com • WILLER • JR Bus (kakuyasubus.jp) • kate.co.jp. >> (*Bus travel in Japan)

 RAIL >   JR Tokushima + Central Japan Railway CompanyWest Japan Railway CompanyEast Japan Railway Company. >> (*Rail travel in Japan)

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Japan has many great opportunities for bikers. Bike rentals can be found throughout the country, especially near popular routes. Some routes (like the Shimanami Kaido Bikeway, which takes you from Onomichi on the main island to *Imabari in Shikoku) have been set up specifically for bikers.

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Aomori – Hokkaido

Inland Sea (Seto Naikai)

Kagoshima – Okinawa/Yakushima

  • Kagoshima – Amami-Oshima – Naha: A Line and Marix Line (26 hours, 14,610 yen)
  • Kagoshima – Yakushima: the Yaku-2 ferry departs every morning (4 hours, 4,800 yen) or there is the high-speed Toppy jetfoil (from 2 hours, 8,800 yen).

Sendai/Niigata – Tomokomai

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