Summer in Japan is known for more than just its stifling embrace and hair-ruining humidity – it’s also the time when Tokyoites take to the streets and strut their funky stuff. That’s right, as Martha and the Vandellas once foretold, there’ll be dancing. Dancing in the street. But how do you choose which raucous festival to shimmy along to? Here are five of the funkiest traditional dance festivals Tokyo has to offer.
Shinjuku Eisa Festival 2013
Sat Jul 27, 2013 Shinjuku area
Eisa is a form of Okinawan dance usually performed to mark the end of the Obon period. Like all things Okinawan, it’s been enthusiastically embraced by the rest of the country, and this Shinjuku parade proves a good example. 24 eisa dance troupes (including teams from Okinawa and Tohoku) will take to the streets around the east exit of Shinjuku Station
to beat portable taiko drums and twirl their way through the crowds – a colourful and noisy event to brighten your weekend. Slap on the sun cream, grab yourself a handheld fan and get there early: it’s guaranteed to be crowded.
Open July 27
Asakusa Samba Carnival 2013
Sat Aug 31, 2013 Central Asakusa
Teams of elaborately attired dancers flood the streets of Asakusa for Japan’s largest samba carnival, shaking their tail feathers to the Brazilian beat as they work their way from Sensoji Temple
to Tawaramachi Station. First held in 1981 in an attempt to revitalise the neighbourhood, the carnival is now one of Tokyo’s more popular summer events, drawing half a million spectators. Seeing that this is the first time in a while that it hasn’t clashed with rival dance festivals like the Koenji Awaodori
and Super Yosakoi
, you can expect an even fuller turnout than usual in 2013.
Open August 31
Venue Central Asakusa
Fri Aug 9 – Sat Aug 10, 2013 Shimokitazawa Ichibangai
Granted, it’s a minnow compared to the Koenji Awaodori
that takes place a couple of weeks later, but Shimokitazawa’s version of the famed dancing-in-the-streets fest (originally from Tokushima) has a unique charm of its own. Now into its 48th year, the Shimokitazawa Awaodori sees teams of dancers romp along the neighbourhood’s main shopping streets in the evening, then dazzle the assembled hordes with their own special routines from 8.10pm. Be sure to hang around afterwards, when the area is engulfed in a wave of booze-sodden joie de vivre.
Open August 9-10
Venue Shimokitazawa Ichibangai
Koenji Awaodori 2013
Sat Aug 24 – Sun Aug 25, 2013 Around Koenji
12,000 dancers pile out on to the streets of Koenji over the two days of the annual Awaodori, undoubtedly one of Tokyo’s most energetic festivals – and one with crowds to match. The awaodori (‘awa dance’) tradition can be traced back to Tokushima in Shikoku, where the story goes that the localdaimyo plied his citizens with booze to celebrate the completion of the local castle in 1586, leading to a citywide outbreak of dancing in the streets. Whatever the accuracy of that tale, the enthusiasm was contagious, and Koenji has been holding a dance of its own for over half a century. While the action starts at 5pm, you’ll need to arrive much earlier if you want to snag one of the best viewing spots.
Open August 24-25
Venue Around Koenji
Super Yosakoi (2013)
Sat Aug 24 – Sun Aug 25, 2013 Yoyogi Park
Omotesando, Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Park
The final weekend of August is always a good time for dancing in the streets, with many major festivals kicking off. The original yosakoi dance started life in Kochi in 1954, where it was intended to help revitalise the struggling post-war economy, and Tokyo’s own Super Yosakoi festival
has been going for just over a decade now. The event sees 90-odd teams of brightly attired dancers trying to outdo each other as they strut their stuff to the rhythm of the naruko
– a type of clapper that the people of Kochi originally used to scare birds away from their fields.
Open August 24-25
Time August 24 10am-8pm; August 25 10am-5pm
Venue Yoyogi Park Omotesando, Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Park
Address 2-1 Yoyogi Kamizounocho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Transport Harajuku Station (Yamanote line), Yoyogi-Koen Station (Chiyoda line), Yoyogi-Hachiman station (Odakyu line)