Around the same time each year – somewhere between late July and late August – multiple Awa Odori festivals happen all over Japan. The big one in Tokyo is undoubtedly Koenji, but this can be extremely busy. For a more intimate experience, you may want to consider one of the smaller events such as in Shimokitazawa or Kagurazaka.
Despite the dizzying temperatures, we headed to Kagurazaka last Saturday night and really enjoyed the atmosphere. Men danced in tabi (split-toed socks), while women wore sandals, their heels not touching the ground. Everyone danced through the streets in unison to music performed on the shamisen, flute, drums, and bells singing “Odoru aho ni miru aho; onaji aho nara odoranya son son!” (It’s a fool who dances and a fool who watches; if both are fools, you might as well dance!)
Legend has it that the Awa Odori tradition can be traced back to Tokushima in Shikoku in 1586, when a local ruler plied his citizens with booze to celebrate the completion of a local castle, leading to a citywide outbreak of dancing in the streets. The tradition carries on to this day, and for me it feels like summer has only truly begun once I hear those bells ringing once again.