There are numerous summer festivals across the city but the annual Koenji Awaodori Festival has to be the most anticipated one. I, for one was looking forward to it, so I decline an office invitation to go to Hakone for a BBQ feast.
A two day event (August 25-26,2012) featuring 188 groups of dancers distinguished usually by the color of their costume, the Koenji Awaodori, if you ask me is the summer festival that you should go if you have to attend one festival only.
With a total of 12,000 dancers and a crowd of spectators to match, both occupying the nine routes closed street of Koenji including shotengai (shopping area), to find a spot with great viewing point is crucial.
Though the event starts at 5pm, there are many viewers who arrived early; they setup a picnic mat on the street, brought beer and snacks in order to watch the performance more comfortable than those like me who arrived just in time. I needed to walk and walk around in search for the right spot to be able to take decent pictures, but I did not brave on climbing the nearby building like the others did.
Most women wore Yukuta (summer kimono made of light cotton materials), with amigasa (hut made of woven rush grass), and of course my favorite- white socks on a geta sandals (elevated wooden base sandal, sort of clogs and flip-flops hybrid), while the men wore a more loose, light cotton robe called “happi”.
The clothes is associated with how they move- the women are expected to dance gracefully, while the men are expected to dance dynamically, so the costume must be loose fitting for them to be able to move freely.
A group of performers consists of the following.
Next in line, slowly making it to the spotlight are my favorites- “ojiisan” (grandfather) together with the rest of the men. Ojiisan are quite the crowd charmer with some of them doing intentional funny moves.
So, what is “Awa” dance style?
A 400 years old tradition and originating from the island of Shikoku at Tokushima Prefecture, the “Awa” moves consist of a bend legs and a raised hands.
On the bend position, the men raises their hands above the foreheads, waiving the wrist up and down.While, the women with raise hands turn their palms inwards and uses their geta sandals elevated portion to control their leg movements.
Moving along with the beat of taiko drums, strings and flutes, the dancers at the same time are chanting “Erai yatcha erai yatcha yoi-yoi-yoi-yoi!” (“Some fools dance while some fools watch..”), as if encouraging every viewers to get-up on their seats and dance as well.
I confess, I tried imitating the “awa” dance style.I thought it will be easy since the dancers appears to be just playing around, but actually it is a challenge.
When the clock turned 8pm, the dancing stop. The viewers stood up from their picnic mats and Koenji was filled with the sound of applause and congratulations.
Koenji Awaodori is only one of the many festivals in Japan that showcase not only the cultural aspect but the willingness of its people to preserve a tradition.
An ordinary street dance festival but the atmosphere of celebration, the details of preparations and performances is overwhelmingly good, so just imagine what Japan can do if they are awarded the privilege to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. I’m betting it will be an Opening Ceremony to remember.