The annual Awa Dance Festival attracts more than four times the total population of Tokushima City, so hotels and festival seating sell out early. It’s not necessary to buy tickets to enjoy the festival, but four of the seven main performance stages offer reserved seating for advanced ticket buyers. If you don’t manage to get in early, don’t worry – the Awa Odori dance goes from the Awa Odori Museum to Tokushima Station, so there are plenty of places to enjoy the dances for free.
If you come before the Awa Dance Festival officially begins on August 12th, you can catch a glimpse of the dance groups known as ren as they practice their moves to music in wide, open spaces around the city. Tokushima Jet suggests trying the Shinmachi River Boardwalk or the boat docks along the Suketo River.
Visitors who want to learn the dance steps before the festival can do so with a niwaka ren, or drop-in dance team. Instead of taking lessons or signing up in advance, those interested can meet with the niwaka ren from August 12th to the 15th, 6:30-8:30PM at the Civic Square in front of Tokushima City Hall. No special costume required!
The official song of the Awa Dance Festival is known as the Awa Yoshikono, and singers will belt out this tune when the dancers stop to perform a dance at one of the seven stages. When the parade resumes, an Awa Odori chant is sung to encourage the dancers:
Odoru ahou ni miru ahou; Onaji ahou nara odorana son, son!? Dancing fools and watching fools; both are the same fools, so why not dance!?
Dancers, musicians and spectators also chant nonsensical words like yoi, yoi, yoi and yattosa, yattosa in order to keep things lively – learn these on the fly and you’ll sound like a local in no time.
Spectators at Awa Odori are expected to join in on the fun at special odori hiroba, dancing areas for spectators that spring up along the route. Dance moves are different for men and women, but since the women’s traditional dance moves were designed with kimonos in mind, it’s common these days for spectating women to dance the men’s style as well, so long as they’re not wearing kimonos!
Learn the history of the Awa Dance Festival at Awa Odori Kaikan, also known as the Awa Dance Memorial Hall. This museum in Tokushima City is basically a one-stop shop to introduce visitors to the region. It not only contains a museum on the origins of the dance and information on Tokushima Prefecture, but organizes performances to display the Awa Odori by real dancers. Visitors can also purchase local specialties and goods in the gift shop on the first floor, or take the ropeway to nearby Mount Bizan!