After spending an entire day dealing with the fiasco of getting my backpack stolen in Osaka, I headed down to Kyoto Station on Monday, August 11th to meet up with Peder and his friend Stian from Norway. The three of us hopped on a highway bus to Tokushima for my alltime favorite Japanese festival. The Awa Odori.
Here’s a post on my first experience with Awa Odori, a full three years ago.
Most Japanese festivals, while spectacularly interesting in their cultural depth and creativity, aren’t really all that exciting. Take Kyoto’s Jidai Matsuri, for instance: a parade of locals dressed in costumes representing all the phases of Japanese history. Seeing Samurai on horses and Geisha walking the streets is a sight to remember, without a doubt. But as far as participation goes, everyone except those in the parade itself is still just an observer.
Tokushima’s Awa Odori Matsuri is different.
It’s a massive city-wide party, where EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE is exploding with energy.
It reminds me in many ways of Carnaval in Salvador, just much more traditional – instead of massive rolling soundstages blasting the latest techno beats, you’ve got taiko drums, shamisen, and kimonos.
Some of the festival is organized – beautifully choreographed dancing parades passing through dozens of the city’s streets that’ve been lined with bleachers for non-participating observers to sit and watch.
Some is chaotic – groups of men with massive drums strapped to their chests randomly start pounding away, and the dense crowds around them respond by explode into dance.
And some is just nutty – hundreds of students smashing into each other, jumping up and down, blowing whistles, and chugging giant bottles of sake throughout the streets.
No cars drive through Tokushima’s central downtown area during Awa Odori. Only music and dance can be seen and heard for miles in every direction. Day or night, it’s truly a spectacle to be seen.
And there we were, as usual, right in the middle of it.
I’ve been telling Peder since we first met that Awa Odori is a Japanese festival that’s not to be missed. I’ve been telling him how he’d never forget it. Finally, I was able to hear his impression.
As we rode the bus back to Kyoto three days later, voices lost, bodies abused, minds exhausted, and drenched in sweat from the stifling heat, he told me:
“Sometimes when you get exited about something you tend to exaggerate. You’d bragged so many times about Awa Odori that, just to be safe, I set my expectations low. I’d seen some videos on YouTube and it didn’t look all that much better than the other festivals I myself have been to. But I have to tell you: Awa Odori completely blew my mind. I never thought I’d actually say that I’m depressed to be going back to Kyoto. I just wish it never had to end.”
Stian kept it a bit simpler.
He said that after Awa Odori, he wants to quit his job in Norway and move to Japan.
That was one hell of a welcome home.
I’m glad they liked it 🙂
But our Summer in Japan has barely just begun.