Last weekend, I had one of the most exciting cultural experiences in Japan. I attended and participated in a huge festival called “Awa Odori”.
For months, I had been going to the dance practices, meeting new faces, going to their fun dinner parties. I was invited by a friend, and when he offered me the opportunity to join this event, I curiously accepted. Sometimes the best answer is “yes”.
Without knowing what this festival was really about, I did my research. It is the biggest festival in Japan. Millions of tourists come to the city of Tokushima to see and participate in this 4-day dancing fest. “Awa” is the historical name of this lovely city, and “odori” means “dance”. From about 5pm-11pm, dancing is what you’ll see down the main boulevard and various streets that extend from the city’s transportation station. To be a part of a group, groups come from different regions across Japan, one must pay a daily fee and purchase the correct attire (a happi, white shorts, and specific tabi shoes for dancing). I must say, I really like the feeling of being a part of a group and kind of miss uniforms.
It was towards the end of my summer break when I left for Tokushima. It takes a little over 6 hours to get there. I am not one to rush, so I left a day early and traveled most of the way, to the city of Okayama, just 2 hours from my destination. The hotel was very nice, near the station, and near a huge mall. That was a nice visit.
In the morning, I traveled the rest of the way to Tokushima, quickly purchased my shorts and other accessories needed at a nearby store, and then made my way to a more rural area, to the house I had reserved for the night. The place: Nodokeya. It rests in the middle of an old neighborhood, and the view is pretty great.
I could only attend Awa Odori for two days. On the first day, I made it just in time to get my wristband. My group practiced the dancing a few more times and we had a group meeting with very fun introductions of the leaders. Afterwards, we began moving down the streets, stopping every little bit to dance. We even danced as we made our way down the various streets. It was hot, but people were happy. Whenever we stopped, we drank wine and beers, and cocktails. My kind of festival!
I left early that night, because of the last train, but I planned to stay longer the next day.
I arrived later the next day, but had gone to get my wristband earlier. I took my time moving myself from the house to my next hotel all the way in the Naruto region, which turned out to be a resort! I had an ocean view! It was quite the contrast to the house.
When I arrived back in Tokushima all dressed and ready, I walked calmly through the streets, and quickly found my group drinking and dancing on a bridge. On this night, because I stayed later, I joined in the main event, dancing down a street with onlookers sitting on bleachers, enjoying the dances.
(pictured: the Tokyo group)
I was so sweaty from the lights and the humidity. Since I was dancing on a side, people tried to fan me and I could see them cheer us on, giving us high fives. It was very fun! Go, Tokyo! The announcers even said that we were impressive.
After our big performance, we went to a quieter location to drink, dance once again together, and listen to one of the leaders congratulate everyone for the day. Everyone then went to different directions. I went with one group to an after-party at a club. I let loose and danced my booty off! We even had a popular dancing group join us and give us a special performance! It was so much fun dancing with these people. They are really good people.
Early in the morning, everyone went back to their hotels and I decided to hang out by the train station for the first train. To kill the time, I bought food, and rested on a bench, watching the clean-up crews come and go (elder residents and families came out to help clean, too).
About an hour before my train was to arrive, a man, who I had seen earlier that evening, approached me and asked if I was from Tokyo upon seeing my happi (jacket, it says Tokyo University). He doesn’t speak English, but luckily I know enough Japanese that we were able to communicate a little. He has one of my favorite personalities that I have seen come from a Japanese man, gentle, innocent and humble. He had asked me to have a drink with him, but I told him that I had to leave, and I was leaving for Tokyo. Then he asked if we could get a drink if he comes to Tokyo, and I said that we could. In that moment after my response, he was so happy and in disbelief, as if no one had shown him such kindness before. He shyly asked for my number. He’s been sending me kind messages every day since, saying he’s looking forward to visiting me in Tokyo. He’s planning to come the second weekend of September.
Anyway, it’s the weekend. I’m seeing big fireworks tomorrow. I’m feeling an earthquake right now. I made a new friend. It’s a best friend’s birthday. And I had a great time at the Awa Odori festival.
In this moment, life is looking pretty good.