Six Days in Shikoku: Awa Odori in Tokushima City

A female dancer wears a white-and-pink dress with long, draping sleeves like small, stiff flags.  On her head is a hat which looks like a circular straw hat foled in two, covering her forehead.  We see the dancer's profile, facing left.  Her left arm is raised.  Behind her, we see a background of sunset colors.

Pretty much all I saw of Tokushima City was the downtown area. There’s a decent (and vegetarian-friendly) Indian restaurant in the shopping complex around Tokushima train station, and the ‘business ryokan’ where I stayed is run by a nice old lady, is reasonably priced, and is just a few blocks away from the train station. I also sent a package from the main Tokushima post office to the United States (I never imagined I would spend so much time at Japanese post offices when I first started planning my trip to Japan).

The map shows that Tokushima city is in northeastern Shikoku

Shockingly, Tokushima City is in Tokushima prefecture.

There’s also a river flowing through downtown, with bridges that light up at night.

In the dark night, there is a bridge lit up with mostly pink lights, with white butterflies and a blue flower, the reflection of the bridge can be seen in the dark river water below

The old name for the Tokushima region is ‘Awa’, and one of the most famous dance festivals in all of Japan is the ‘Awa Odori’ (literally, ‘Awa Dance’). It happens during the major Obon holidays, accommodation in Tokushima becomes significantly more expensive and booked months in advance, and the crowds are immense. I didn’t want to be there. Fortunately, there are regular performances of the Awa Odori at the Awa Odori Kaikan in downtown Tokushima, and I saw one of those.

There are about ten musicians, all wearing light-blue shirts, and long, narrow pale-yellow skirts.  Most of them have white headbands, but a few are wearing the folded straw hats.  They have traditional Japanese instruments in their hands

The musicians

It’s a very cheerful dance.

Three female dancers, dressed as the dancer in the first photo in this post, are moving from left to right in a line

There seems to be one dance for females and another dance for males … yet one of the ‘male’ dancers looked like (and probably is) a woman.

There are two gueys in yellow & black clothes with both of the arms raised in the air, and their knees are moving up and down

The male dancers

I didn’t capture it in any of my photos, but one of the female dancers had THE SWEETEST SMILE on her face.

A large group of female dancers with a few male dancers are dancing together

The dance alternated between sections where it was just the ‘official’ performers dancing, and sections where the audience was invited to dance. People who know me know that I usually jump at the chance to participate in this kind of thing, but on this evening I was afflicted with a burst of shyness. Nonetheless, I participated in the dance as well. It’s a rather simple dance, and to quote my diary ‘Dancing helped me hear the music better’. At the end, there were awards handed out to the audience members who danced the best (no, I didn’t win any awards).

It was a fun way to interact with the local culture (also, check out the bonus feature at the end of this post).

In the next post, I describe my pilgrim-for-a-day excursion in rural Tokushima prefecture.

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**** BONUS *****

The following day – probably at a JR station around Tokushima, I saw this poster:

A poster advertising the Naruto City Awa Odori Festival, depicting characters from the popular anime Naruto - in fron there is Naruto and Sakura, and behind them are many other characters such as Tsunade, Gaara, Kakaishi, etc., and they are all dancing the Awa Odori

Near Tokushima City is Naruto City – in fact, it has it’s own short little JR line (I reckon JR Naruto station is about a 30 minute train ride from JR Tokushima station). One of the most super-popular Japanese manga/anime of the past twenty years, of course, is Naruto. And the protagonist, Uzumaki Naruto, was in fact named after Naruto City. Ah, actually ‘Naruto’ is the name of an ingredient often added to ramen, but ‘Uzumaki’ is a reference to the famous whirlpools of Naruto City, so the character is almost named after the city. Naruto City, of course, has collaborated with the Naruto media franchise to attract tourism, in this case, to its annual Awa Odori festival. I like that the Naruto characters in this poster are clearly dancing the awa odori, the same dance I saw in downtown Tokushima City.

Personally, I think it’s really funny that Gaara (one of the characters in the poster) is dancing the awa odori, since it really does not fit his personality. Alas, there is no Uchiha Sasuke in this poster, because seeing him dance the awa odori would also be pretty funny. Then again, this dance fits Uzumaki Naruto’s personality perfectly. In the universe of the manga/anime, Uzumaki Naruto is probably the one who invented the dance in the first place. Maybe all of those characters in the posters are actually Naruto’s shadow clones disguised as the various kage (leaders of ninja villages), because creating an army of shadow clones to do a silly happy dance together is exactly what Uzumaki Naruto would do.

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