How To Guide taken from the book Great Festivals of the
Where's the party?
Awa Odori is a dance which takes place in various
locations throughout the prefecture of Tokushima in
Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands that comprise
the Japanese archipelago. The largest celebrations are held
in the city of Tokushima itself.
Dates for the diary
Awa Odori is held annually in Tokushima City between August
12 and 15.
What's it all about?
Awa Odori takes place during the Buddhist observance of O-bon,
when the spirits of the dead are thought to return to their
ancestral homes. In Tokushima the departed are welcomed back
with a performance of the Dance of the Fools, which
dates back more than 400 years.
In 1587 a feudal overlord decided to throw a party to celebrate
the completion of his new castle. His guests got so drunk
that they began to dance, arms and legs flailing about all
over the place. Once they had recovered from their hangovers
it was decided to make it an annual event. The feudal government
of the time, afraid that the gatherings could easily turn
into a mob that would try and oust them from power, imposed
restrictions on Awa Odori. Yet their legislation was unable
to subdue the joyous spirit of the people, and the tradition
In Tokushima City, most of the action happens along the city's
main drag. Over the four days of the festival around 990 different
community dance groups known as ren put on dance displays
between about 6pm and 9pm. Dressed in yukata (cotton
summer kimonos), participants form an arm waving, feet shuffling
procession, playing traditional musical instruments as they
go. After the official presentations everyone is welcome to
join in the dancing. Stalls and fairs line both sides of the
Shinmachi River the parties rage well into the night,
particularly on the last day of the festival.
Japan operated a visa waiver scheme for visitors from 56
different countries, including the UK, Ireland, USA, Australia
and New Zealand, provided you are staying for no more than
90 days. You must carry with you your return or onward ticket,
and evidence of sufficient funds to support yourself for the
duration of your stay. If you are in any doubt or wish to
stay in Japan for more than 90 days contact the Japanese Consulate
or Embassy in the country you are travelling from before you
If you plan on travelling around Japan by train, make use
of the Foreigners' 7, 14 or 21 consecutive day JR Rail Pass
(valid on most JR trains and bullet trains). You must buy
this from an authorised travel agent in your home country
before travel for validation and use in Japan and you will
require your passport stamped with Temporary Visitor visa
status when validating the coupon at one of the main JR stations.
Passes cost around US$130, US$410 and US$525 respectively.
Many of the hotels in Tokushima are booked up well in advance
of the festival, so it¹s a good idea to make a reservation
a few months beforehand.
Visitors who want to take part in the formal dance displays
can join the Arasowa-ren (which means 'do not quarrel'),
who perform on August 14. You should contact the TOPIA in
advance to organise this. (see below for contact information).
The Tokushima International Association (TIA) also organises
a group to dance on August 12. For more information, telephone:
+ 81 88 622 6066.
Tickets for the spectator seating areas go on sale in early
July and are advertised in the local newspaper. For information
about booking your ticket in advance contact the TOPIA (see
below for contact information). Tickets also go on sale at
Saiwaicho Park near Tokushima Central Hall, from 9am on the
day of the performance, but be sure to get there early as
they do sell out.
There are frequent express coaches to Tokushima from various
cities, which are quite cheap and follow a direct route. Local
coach companies also organise group trips from all over Japan
but you will need to ask a Japanese speaking friend to make
the booking on your behalf.
You can travel to Tokushima by train if you prefer, but as
the town is not on a major train line it's a rather roundabout
Where to Stay
There are a good range of accommodation available in Tokushima,
including internationalstyle hotels, family-run guest houses
knows as minshuku and traditional-style inns called ryokans.
Rates start from as little as US$50 per person per night,
but they usually increase during the festival.
You don¹t need to pay to watch the Awa Odori if you're
happy to stand, but tickets for the seating areas cost about
US$8. See above for information on buying a ticket in advance.
If you decide to take part in the formal dance displays the
only cost you¹ll incur is hiring a costume, which costs
If you stick to eating in simple noodle bars around Clement
Plaza, close to Tokushima station and buying drinks from
vending machines, you can keep costs to a minimum. A decent
meal of noodles, meat and vegetables would cost around US$7.
Once you're there
To watch the dancing, head for the terrace seating along
Shinmachibashi-dori, the city's main street. Soak up
the atmosphere in the side streets leading up from the river,
which are lined with stalls and exhibitions throughout the
Japan is hot and humid in August, so take light clothes,
sunblock and a hat. Carry a bottle of water with you at all
Very few people in Tokushima speak English. Bear in mind
that Japanese people are generally shy of trying out their
English, so if they appear to be ignoring you they probably
don¹t mean to be rude. If you travel with Japanese friends
they will be able to explain goings on more clearly.
Awa Odori is by far Tokushima's biggest claim to fame. The
Awa Odori Kaikan, which is close to the station, has
displays and exhibits relating to the history of the festival,
however it is closed during the festival itself. At other
times there is an entrance fee of US$ 4. When it is open,
Awa Odori performances are put on every evening.
If you're keen to explore the rest of the prefecture, head
for the whirlpools and craft villages of Naruto north of the
city. The pretty coastal village of Hiwasa and the island
of Awaji-shima in the south have some decent beaches
and traditional Japanese villages.