Rediscover Tradition: Tokyo’s 64th Koenji Awa Odori Returns to Its Streets | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

Rediscover Tradition: Tokyo’s 64th Koenji Awa Odori Returns to Its Streets

By Margherita Aug 14, 2023

Mark your calendars for August 26-27th, as Koenji Station North-South Shopping Street and Konan Street come alive with Koenji Awa Odori.

Save the Date: Koenji Awa Odori Dance Returns in 2023  

Emerging in 1957 with the aim of revitalizing a shopping street, the Koenji Awa Odori festival flourished with the backing of numerous individuals and groups. 

Following a hiatus due to COVID-19, this summer holds particular significance as it reunites supporters and staff for an emotional comeback.

What is Koenji Awa Odori

Awa odori

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Koenji Awa Odori is a vibrant and lively traditional Japanese dance festival held annually in late August in the Koenji district of Tokyo. This event is a celebration of culture, community, and music that draws both participants and spectators from across the city and beyond. 

The Awa Odori dance is known for its dynamic movements, rhythmic chants, and colorful costumes, creating an electric atmosphere that captures the essence of Japanese tradition and modernity.

Originally originating in Tokushima Prefecture on Shikoku Island, the Awa Odori dance was brought to Koenji in 1957, where it has since evolved into a major cultural event. The streets of Koenji come alive with performances from various dance groups, both amateur and professional, showcasing a range of styles and interpretations of the dance.

How Did Koenji Awa Odori Start?

It all began as a tool to boost the promotion of the area and as a commercial effort of what is now known today as the “Koenji Pal Shopping Street Promotion Association.” 

Faced with limited options, the association members couldn’t afford a mikoshi (portable shrine) or set up a traditional obon dance yagura stage in the narrow shopping street. 

Thus, the concept of Awa Odori, where people dance along the road, took shape almost out of necessity.

Though the initial years were challenging, the group of dancers received crucial assistance from an Awa Odori expert. This support significantly enhanced their dance technique, leading to the official establishment of the Koenji Awa Odori Dance in 1963.

One of the remarkable aspects of Koenji Awa Odori is its inclusive nature. It encourages participation from the general public, allowing anyone interested to join the dance and become part of the event’s vibrant tapestry. 

This ethos of community engagement and shared celebration has contributed to the festival’s enduring popularity over the years.

Participants and spectators alike often join in the revelry, dancing along with the procession or enjoying the spectacle from the sidelines. 

The festival’s lively energy is contagious (hopefully not in the literal sense), for an experience that transcends cultural boundaries and engages people of all ages.

During the pandemic, since the festival had to be canceled for multiple years in a row, Suginami Ward even decided to organize a special series of workshops where you could enjoy a performance of the traditional Awa-Odori dance with project mapping while learning about its history.

The Dance 

Koenji Awa odori

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Two primary dance styles within Awa Odori exist. The “men’s dance”, which often includes female participants as well, is characterized by its deep bending at the waist and low-to-ground movements; and the “ladies’ dance”, is executed on elevated geta sandals while wearing braided hats. The dance’s essence is straightforward – raise your hands and coordinate your hand and foot movements as you advance.

Despite its simplicity, each dance group, called “ren” develops its own style, creating unique performances. Awa Odori’s charm comes from the different and amazing shows that have grown from this basic dance.

The Awa Odori dance is accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments like drums, shamisen, and flutes, providing the rhythmic backdrop to the dancers’ movements. As the sun sets and the city’s neon lights illuminate the streets, Koenji Awa Odori takes on a magical and surreal quality, creating an unforgettable experience for both participants and spectators.

Celebrate Koenji Awa Odori in 2023

Awa odori

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Koenji Awa Odori is more than just a traditional dance festival. It’s a celebration of Tokyo’s cultural diversity, artistic expression, and the enduring spirit of community. It’s a chance for locals and visitors alike to come together, celebrate tradition, and experience the joyous fusion of music, dance, and camaraderie.

Join us in celebrating Koenji’s spirit with Koenji Awa Odori on August 26th and 27th, through traditional dance and music.

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