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Monday, August 29, 2016

60th Koenji Awa-Odori - young energy on Tokyo's streets

東京高円寺阿波踊り2016年

Koenji in Tokyo's Suginami ward is one of Tokyo's most youthful districts, so it makes sense that one of Tokyo's most energetic traditional-style dance festivals, the Tokyo Koenji Awa-Odori, happens here every year.

A dancer at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.
Dancing at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.
The Tokyo Koenji Awa-Odori took place here yesterday on the streets of Koenji for the 60th time since its beginnings in the 1950s. This two-day event of costumes, music, rhythm and dancing happened on Saturday August 27 and Sunday August 28, from 5 pm to 8 pm - the evening hours being the cooler hours in Tokyo's mid-summer.

Help getting adjusting the yukata the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.
Tightening a team member's obi belt,60th Koenji Awa-Odori Dance Parade, Tokyo, 2016.

We were there to see the 60th Tokyo Koenji Awa-Odori 2016 on Sunday afternoon. The blurb says the crowd each year tops a million, and the packed streets of Koenji made that easy to believe.

Making up faces at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
A last minute hand at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.

Thirty groups took part in this year's Tokyo Koenji Awa-Odori, each with its own yukata robes, colors, music, rhythms, and moves. Some have only about 35 members, others well over 100, many date from the early 1970s, others formed much more recently.

Typical Awa-Odori hats and yukata at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.
Typical Awa-Odori attire at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.

The dancing may differ in the details between groups, but the Awa-Odori is a dance from the island of Shikoku - specifically Tokushima (formerly known as the province of Awa). This dance became the trademark of this event that, for its first few years, styled itself as the Koenji Baka-Odori, or the "Koenji Dance of Fools." The dance is an out-and-out "import" from Shikoku that was adopted simply because it was considered more appropriate than the "baka" antics to date. Some teams base their dancing on the real Awa-Odori more than others, but the aim of each team is to distinguish itself from the others with its look, style, sound and energy. Teams come from all over, one there clearly being marked "Shikoku University."

Get tickets for Koenji Awa-Odori festival

Faces from all over the world at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.
International face of the Koenji Awa-Odori, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.

Several foreigner members of various teams were in evidence, too. One I spoke to, a European woman who is a university student here, said she got to participate through friendships made in Koenji.

Man carrying drum at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Suginami ward, Tokyo, Japan.
A bit of chest at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, Japan.

Koenji has few big open roads - most of it is alleys and malls, so organizing a huge dance parade here takes tactics. Therefore, there are actually eight different venues, north and south of JR Koenji Station, from where the dancing starts, simultaneously, at 5 pm. We went to the starting point farthest south of the station, the Minami Awa-Odori spot, and spent about half and there watching several teams depart from there.

Big brother, little sister, 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Suginami ward, Tokyo, Japan.
Big bro, little sis at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo, Japan
The streets are lined with stalls selling everything from beer to cocktails to takoyaki to icecream, and the vendors as much into the festive spirit as anyone with their cries to stop and buy.

 Dancing in the alleyways of Koenji, at the Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.
Getting fierce in Koenji's alleyways at the Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.
Perhaps the Koenji Awa-Odori is best experienced on one of Koenji's narrow alleys where the drums, cymbals, flutes, shouts - not to mention the energy of the dancers themselves - form a potent concentrate of pure, joyous energy and where there is an almost tangible rapport between the tireless costumed dancers on the street and the happy party goers lining it.

Dance party departing from the Minami Awa-Odori Venue of the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.
Setting out from the Minami Awa-Odori Venue, Koenji.
This year was the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori event. This powerful display of talent and enthusiasm began in 1950s, when Japan was making its entry on the world stage once again after emergence from defeat in war. It is just as needed today, in the aging, flatlining 2010s, to remind us that Japan's spirit is still as community-based, youthful and eager to get out there and express itself in music, rhythm, color and dance as ever.

Enjoy a selection of photos of the 60 Koenji Awa-Odori below.

Women dance at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori along a narrow alley.
Koenji Awa-Odori dancers in a Koenji alley.

An alleyway of Koenji, chock-a-block with dance procession and spectators, Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.
A Koenji alleyway chock full of  dancers and spectators, 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.
Street stall at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
Street vendors at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo.

Dancer in front of "Lover Soul" clothing store, one of many in Koenji, at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo.
Dancing in front of "Lover Soul," one of Koenji's many clothing shops.

 Men and women dance on the street at the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo,
Men and women dancers at the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo, 2016.



The heat of the moment - dancing their hearts out at the Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016.
Letting go at the Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016.

Men's group dancing at the Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016.
Men getting down to it in a Koenji alley at the Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo, 2016.



Street scene at the Minami Awa-Odori Venue of the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.
The Minami Awa-Odori Venue of the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.

Participants from different groups wait for the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade to start.
Men from different groups wait the start of the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori.

Men in pink yukata at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016.
Men in pink, 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016.
Standard bearers at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016 waiting for 5pm start time to come around.
Standard bearer and drummer at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016.

Young dancing team member at the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival on Sunday August 27, 2016.
Boy dancer at the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival

Preparations for drums and lanterns almost over before the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival Parade, Tokyo, 2016.
Drums, mobile phone, lantern - before the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival Parade, Tokyo, 2016.


Tying up a team member's obi belt at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Dance Parade, Tokyo, Japan.
Tying a team member's obi belt at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Dance Parade, Tokyo, Japan.

Man in yukata on a Koenji street corner at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori, Tokyo, Japan, 2016.
Taisho-era fashion on a Koenji street corner, Awa-Odori, 2016.


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