It’s the last weekend of August but summer isn’t over yet! And more importantly, there is still a handful of festivals left on Tokyo’s summer events calendar, like the Harajuku Omotesando Genki Festival Super Yosakoi. This lively two-day festival takes place on August 25-26 (2018) and showcases a Japanese dance called the yosakoi.
I first came to know about the yosakoi through working at a junior high school here in Tokyo. Every year at the school’s bunkasai (culture festival), all of the classes would compete in a dance off. They had special costumes called happi coats and practiced their original version of the yosakoi for weeks in their P.E. classes. On the day, the parents would come to cheer on their kids and one class from each year level would be crowned the winner. It was always so fun to watch and of course so good to see the students working together like that!
I actually didn’t know that the yosakoi was a dance that originated in Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. The neighbouring prefecture, Tokushima, is home to another famous dance festival, the awa odori. I wonder what is in the water in Shikoku for the locals to come up with all of these great events!?
The first official yosakoi festival was held in Kochi in 1954 as a way to boost the local economy after the war. It very quickly grew in popularity and spread throughout the country. Now, there are over 200 different yosakoi festivals across Japan.
All yosakoi dances, no matter where they are from, have a few things in common. First, they are always performed in large groups. The dancers wear colourful costumes and hold a musical instrument called the naruko, which is a sort of wooden clapper that makes a surprisingly big sound. The main song is pre-recorded but sometimes the taiko drum and shamisen are used live and on occasion, one or two people will narrate a story or yell out different words throughout the dance. Often, one team member will wave a giant flag at the back of the group.
On the flag is Kintaro, a folk hero known for his strength
This professional dance group has won many awards in the past
The Harajuku Super Yosakoi is by far the biggest yosakoi festival in Tokyo. Over 100 teams compete at six different locations in the Harajuku area including at the entrance of Meiji Jingu Shrine, along the main street of Omotesando and around Yoyogi Park. Visitors are free to walk around and view any of the dances. The main street parade is held on Sunday only.
Young, old. Men, women. School clubs, professional groups. What I love about the yosakoi is it’s a dance performed by everyone. There’s really only one requirement: energy! It’s a fast-paced, lively dance with a lot of choreography fit into those few minutes on stage. And as spectators, we love that sense of excitement. At the end of the day, it’s all about having fun!
Umbrellas instantly bring a touch of elegance
The cutest troupe of colourful kids
Power and energy – these guys were jumping and spinning in the air like ninjas
This university team had three different happi coats. As they danced, they simultaneously stripped back the outer layers to reveal new colours and designs.
Have you ever seen a yosakoi festival? Are there any annual dance events like this where you are?