Learn the Dance Steps of Awa Odori, Tokushima’s Biggest Dance Festival!
Tokushima, located in Japan's Shikoku region, is famous for its stunning natural scenery and the spectacular summer dance festival known as Awa Odori. Learn the Awa Odori dance steps and take part in a social media contest using Awa Odori music! Winners will receive special products from Tokushima.
Enjoy Tokushima’s Awa Odori Festival and Other Unique Highlights
Tokushima's Naruto Strait
Tokushima is situated in the eastern corner of Japan's Shikoku island, home to picturesque natural scenery, delectable cuisine, and its lively Awa Odori dance festival held annually in August.
In this article, we introduce the history and characteristics of Awa Odori, including a basic tutorial so that you can learn the moves. For a limited time, you can take part in a social media contest of Awa Odori by posting a video of yourself dancing. The winners will receive a set of special products made with aizome, a traditional indigo dyeing technique that Tokushima takes pride in.
At the end, we feature information on places to visit in Tokushima along with information on access from Tokyo and Osaka.
Awa Odori: Tokushima's Famous Dance Festival
1. Awa Odori History and Characteristics
2. Learn the Basic Steps of Awa Odori Dance at Home
3. Win Tokushima Specialty Products! Social Media Contest of Awa Odori Dances
4. The Charm of Tokushima and Access Information
Awa Odori History and Characteristics
Every year from August 12 to the 15, around 100,000 dancers parade through the streets, clad in colorful costumes and accompanied by lively music for the Awa Odori Festival. With a history spanning over 400 years, the festival has become a source of pride for the people of Tokushima.
The festival is widely known for its distinct amigasa hats, intricately braided and worn by female dancers. In addition, the men's happi jackets add to the festival's recognizable appearance.
The Awa Odori is accompanied by a variety of musical instruments, such as the gongs, side drums, o-daiko large drums, flutes, and shamisen, all of which contribute to the lively and energetic music that sets the tone for the festival's celebratory atmosphere.
Although there are different accounts of the origins of Awa Odori, it is generally believed that the original dance dates back over 400 years ago to the times of Hachisuka Iemasa (1558-1639), the feudal lord of Tokushima. Later, with the support of wealthy local indigo traders from the Awa region, the festival grew in scale and gained popularity as a form of mass entertainment for locals as we know it today.
There are also theories that some of the different Awa Odori have their roots in other dances, including the Bon Odori, a festival that honors the spirits of ancestors also held in August, Noh plays, and even a celebration of dance by local people after the construction of Tokushima Castle.
Regardless of its origins, Awa Odori has certainly become one of Japan's most renowned traditional festivals, attracting both residents and foreigners alike to one of the country's biggest summer festivals of the year.
Learn the Basic Steps of Awa Odori Dance at Home
At the Awa Odori festival, expect energy and enthusiasm as performers showcase their skills by dancing to a two-beat rhythm with intricate footwork and swaying arms.
While each Awa Odori dance style is distinct, you can start with two basic Awa Odori steps to practice on your own. Here are the foundational movements to begin practicing at home:
Ladies, begin by positioning your legs inwardly and lifting one leg in front, slightly higher than your knee. Lower it back down while following the rhythm and repeat the movement. Next, lift both arms up high and stretch your fingers straight up. As you move your right leg forward, bring your right hand forward as well. When lowering your leg back down, draw your hand back. Then, lift your opposite leg and bring your opposite hand forward. Remember to keep the same rhythm throughout the exercise.
Men should begin by lightly bringing their right foot forward and then drawing it back. Then, they should do the same with their left foot while matching a two-beat rhythm. Meanwhile, they should raise both their arms, slightly square their elbows, and firmly outstretch their fingers. They can then flick their right hand forward and draw it back, followed by the same movements with their left hand. This sequence should be repeated while maintaining the rhythm.
If you visit Tokushima in August and would like to showcase your newfound Awa Odori dance skills, join the Niwaka Ren group during the festival from August 12 to 15! They welcome anyone who wishes to participate in this lively event.
Win Tokushima Specialty Products! Social Media Contest of Awa Odori Dances
In order for more people from around the world to enjoy the charm of Awa Odori, Tokushima Prefecture is organizing the World of Awa Odori Championship: Step into the Awa Odori Arena!
This contest is open to people from anywhere around the world who will showcase their Awa Odori dance skills and free performances to the music of Awa Odori.
Participants can dance Awa Odori or perform freely to the specific songs uploaded by the organizers. To participate, please post your own video on Instagram using the tag specified below!
The top 10 outstanding submissions will be awarded a set of aizome products (worth 30,000 yen) that utilize Tokushima's famous traditional dyeing techniques.
We invite everyone who loves Awa Odori dances or has an interest in them to participate and showcase their passion.
Contest Application Period
October 25 (Wednesday) - November 14 (Tuesday), 2023
1. Individuals of any professional or amateur status residing anywhere in the world are eligible to apply.
*However, applicants under 18 years of age must obtain the consent of their parent or guardian.
*All applicants must possess a valid Instagram account.
2. There is no limit to the number of videos that can be submitted, but only one entry per person can receive an award.
How to Apply
Follow the Instagram account AwaNavi (@tokushima_awanavi), the tourism information account of Tokushima Prefecture.
Download the Awa Odori contest songs from the following links:
*Please use your favorite song from all the available music in the provided links.
Using the assigned song, please film a video of yourself dancing Awa Odori or performing freely to the Awa Odori music. The video should be between 10 to 90 seconds in length.
Upload your video to your own Instagram account specifying the title of the song that you used in the comment, then add the hashtag #AwaOdoriArena and tag @tokushima_awanavi
*Please note that submissions from private accounts or accounts with message-blocking settings and submissions via Instagram Stories will not be taken into consideration.
Excellence Awards (10 Winners)
The winners will receive sets of Awa-ai indigo products (each worth 30,000 yen) made with Tokushima's traditional aizome indigo dyeing techniques!
Awa-ai is a type of traditional indigo dye produced mainly in Tokushima Prefecture. Although indigo-dyeing techniques were imported to Japan from China in the 600s, it was not until around the beginning of the 16th century that indigo-dyeing spread in Japan. During the Meiji period (1868-1912), indigo dyeing was praised as "Japan Blue" by foreign visitors; it became a representative color of Japan and has been passed down as a traditional industry in Tokushima Prefecture.
The winners of the Challenge Award will receive the following sets of aizome products:
1. Hon-Aizome Earpicks: Indigo Fubuki (10 winners)
2. Indigo-Dyed Tote Bag made by the Awagami Factory (2 winners)
3. Indigo-Dyed Long Wallet made by the Awagami Factory (4 winners)
4. Indigo-Dyed Business Card Holder made by the Awagami Factory (4 winners)
For details on screening methods, criteria, and terms and conditions of entry, please check this separate page.
Discover the Charm of Tokushima
Some of the most attractive features of Tokushima are its stunning natural landscapes, such as the mesmerizing Naruto Whirlpools, the vine bridges of Iya Valley, and the turquoise waters of Oboke and Koboke Gorges.
Food lovers will also enjoy Tokushima's culinary offerings, especially the local specialty Tokushima ramen, topped with tender pork slices, spring onions, and a fresh egg added into a simmering and flavorful broth.
Despite being on Japan's least explored main island, reaching Tokushima is easy by JR express train or air, making it a perfect peaceful destination for those looking to take a break from popular tourist cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
Travel to Tokushima by Train from Tokyo and Osaka
From Tokyo, take a Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo Station to Okayama Station, then board a rapid express to reach Takamatsu Station. From there, catch the limited express train to Tokushima Station. This journey typically takes around six hours.
If departing from Osaka, you can take a highway bus from Osaka Station's bus terminal to head towards Tokushima. The estimated travel time in this case is approximately three hours.
Travel to Tokushima by Air from Tokyo
Travelers who prefer air travel can catch one of the ten daily flights departing from Haneda Airport bound for Tokushima Awaodori Airport in an hour and 15 minutes. Once you arrive at Tokushima Awaodori Airport, you can take a limousine bus bound for Tokushima Station, which takes about 30 minutes.
Join the Awa Odori Festival in Tokushima!
Tokushima's charm lies not only in its natural beauty and cuisine but also in its locals, who proudly share their traditions with visitors.
Every year from August 12 to 15, you can watch as about 100,000 Awa Odori performers showcase their skills of footwork and swaying arms. In autumn, there is the Autumn Awa Odori Festival (held this year on November 3 - 4 at ASTY Tokushima, and there is also the Awa Odori Kaikan Hall where you can see and dance Awa Odori all year round. You will surely be captivated by the powerful and glamorous authentic Awa Odori performances held right before your eyes.
Currently, there is a special tour that includes an experience of dressing up in dancers' costumes at the Awa Odori Kaikan, indigo dyeing workshops, and water taxi rides, allowing you to savor the unique local food of Tokushima and enjoy the Autumn Awa Odori Festival. This premium tour package is available for sale on Viator.
Tokushima is easily accessible by train or air, so don't miss out on this wonderful experience during your next visit to Japan!
Sponsored by Tokushima Prefecture
All pictures courtesy of Awa Navi: Discover Tokushima
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