Tokushima Awa Odori is rated by many as Japan’s top summer festival. It takes place in Tokushima – a prefecture on the island of Shikoku.
The dance festival (odori means dance) has its origins as a summer obon festival. ‘Awa’ was the pre-Meiji name for the area in which Tokushima city is located. The festival was renowned as a raucous and drunken event and over the years a distinctive dance style emerged. There are a variety of styles of dress for men and women and they typically dance separately or together in large choreographed groups. Many of the female dancers wear distinctive hats resembling folded tacos which are made from tatami. The main dances are performed from the 12th – 15th, but the Evening Selection is held on the night of the 11th.
The streets of central Tokushima City are closed to traffic each evening of the festival. Dancing takes place in the street (which can be viewed for free) and at seven stages with reserved seating. Tickets for the reserved seats range from about ¥800 to ¥2,000 in price and can be purchased in advance at the Information center in front of Tokushima Station and at local convenience stores.
The festival is said to attract 1.3 million visitors, so if you intend to stay nearby, you should book well in advance. Another option is to do a day trip from Kobe on the mainland. The quickest way from Kobe to Tokushima is the Awa Express (link in Japanese) run by JR Shikoku Bus. From Shinkobe Station, the journey takes approximately 2 hours and 8 minutes. Tickets are 5,940yen return for adults and half that for kids. The Salad Express (link in Japanese) from Hanshin bus covers the same route and charges the same price.