Awa-odori in Kagurazaka

In the evening of 22 July 2005, I sauntered along to Kagurazaka to see Awa-odori 阿波踊り.

I went without much interest, as I didn't know one odori from another, and most bon-odori (dances for the o-bon festival, in mid to late August) seem amiable but unexciting, whereas all the masculinity on display in the big matsuri strikes me as grotesque. (In particular, I can happily live without frenetic drumming.) But Awa-odori turned out to be a major contrast. I soon finished the film in the camera I happened to have with me, and the next evening I was back.























The name Awa-odori comes from Awa 阿波 province (also called Ashū), present-day Tokushima prefecture in Shikoku, Japan's fourth-largest island. (This should not be confused with the homophonous Awa 安房 province, or Bōshū, now part of Chiba prefecture, immediately east of Tokyo.)

Tradition says that Awa-odori started when Hachisuka Iemasa 蜂須賀家政, the daimyō, called for it to celebrate the construction of Tokushima castle, in 1587. However, it may well be older. Ren 連 or teams of dancers move along in any of a number of different styles: women may walk (balancing on the front of their geta), their dancing for the most part limited to their upper halves; girls and men have much more vigorous styles, sometimes with solo dancers. Each ren has its own musicians, playing shamisen, flutes, gongs, tambours, drums, and other percussion instruments. It's noisy, but in a jolly rather than mind-numbing way.

Awa-odori is still very much based in Tokushima -- here is the relevant municipal page (in English) -- but recently its popularity has spread in Tokyo. The biggest awa-odori event in Tokyo is at Kōenji, west of the centre; but another large and well established one is more centrally at Kagurazaka. This is an "entertainment quarter" just north of the west exit of Iidabashi station, central Tokyo. Originally an area that grew up next to barracks, it is full of places to eat and (mostly) drink (and offers very little that is improper). Behind the main street, which is all you see on this page, it's a fascinating warren of little streets and alleys.

The description and photos here are derived from a very limited view of Awa-odori: that of the dancers as they proceeded in a fairly restrained matter from one place of more frenetic dance to the next. In August, I saw and photographed more; by early October, I hope to have additional pages uploaded, showing these newer photos.

© Peter Evans 2005 (write to me). First uploaded 17 August; last updated 27 August 2005.HTML CSS