Awa Odori dancers

Koenji Awa Odori: a Must-See Dance Festival in Tokyo

Koenji is in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward and is located just a few stops from Shinjuku Station on the Chuo line. The area is known for its youth culture, partially vintage and second-hand clothing stores. Visitors can stroll down the popular large shopping street and down various side streets to find many different styles of vintage shops. In addition to shopping, Koenji is also known for its live music scene and great places to eat and drink.

Koenji becomes a huge attraction in the summer when it hosts one of Tokyo’s most popular festivals. The Koenji Awa Odori is a summer dance festival and is held annually during the last weekend in August. This year’s festival will be taking place on August 24th and 25th 2019 from 5pm to 8pm. The festival boasts over 10,000 dancers and musicians. Over the two days, the city accommodates in excess of one million visitors attending the festival.

Woman dancer wearing Awa Odori hat

The type of festival, Awa Odori (also written awaodori), is held in many cities across Japan during the summer. However, Koenji is the largest of its kind outside of Tokushima prefecture in Shikoku, where the dance originated. It’s definitely worth seeing if you’re in Tokyo this summer.

Spectators can expect to see performers at the festival wearing traditional clothing and performing in groups of up to 100 people. Spectators normally line the sides of the streets to cheer on the dancers. You can expect to see musicians playing shamisen, flutes, drums, and cymbals marching behind the dancers. Something more unique to the Koenji Awa Odori is the performers are competing against other groups. This means performing groups from all over Japan come to the festival. It’s really exciting to watch.

Shamisen players
Japanese drummers

You’ll also want to make sure you come to the festival with an empty stomach. Many local restaurants prepare food and drinks for purchase. You can expect to find a lot of traditional Japanese festival foods and a variety of international foods as well.

The origins of the Koenji Awa Odori come from Tokushima Prefecture and date back to the Kamakura Period. The festival is believed to have grown out of the Bon Odori, a dance performed during Obon, a Japanese Buddhist celebration where ancestors are said to visit their family members for a few days. The more traditional version of Awa Odori dates back to the 17th century.

Female Awa Odori dancers
Line of Awa Odori dancers

The Koenji version of the Awa Odori festival started in 1957 by migrants from Tokushima Prefecture who hoped to revitalize the local shops around the area. The festival started out slowly and was held in the small shopping streets around the city. Over time, the festival grew larger with more attention from the media and with the Koenji dance team performing in other festivals across Japan. The Koenji dance team performs across Japan and even performs abroad. The festival is now at its largest and held on main streets from Koenji Station to Shin-Koenji Station.

Dancers and man holding festival lanterns on a pole

For details on the festival, see the official English website.

Summer in Tokyo is full of a lot of different types of festivals, but the Koenji Awa Odori is definitely not something you want to miss.

The video below shows in a little more detail what you can expect to see during this year’s festival:

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