The Awa Odori Festival
From August 12th until the 15th every year there is a big dance festival in my hometown of Tokushima called Awa Odori. This event includes several thousands of people precision-dancing through the streets. If you ever plan to visit Tokushima, this is absolutely the best time as the entire city goes nuts for 4 nights. Most dance groups known as rens often practice months in advance for the event, however, the Arasowa-ren which I belong to, comprised of foreigners and Japanese wing-it every year.
During Awa Odori tens of thousands of dancers wearing traditional festival yukatas (summer kimono) perform in parades along the decorated main streets of the city, accompanied by drums, bells and flutes and the traditional Yoshikono-bushi song. The whole city gets caught up in the festive spirit and over a million visitors take part or just watch.
Awa Odori takes place during the Buddhist observance of O-bon, when the spirits of the dead are thought to return to their ancestral homes. In Tokushima the departed are welcomed back with a performance of the Dance of the Fools, which dates back more than 400 years.
More About Awa Odori
In 1587 a feudal overlord decided to throw a party to celebrate the completion of his new castle. His guests got so drunk that they began to dance, arms and legs flailing about all over the place. Once they had recovered from their hangovers it was decided to make it an annual event. The feudal government of the time, afraid that the gatherings could easily turn into a mob that would try and oust them from power, imposed restrictions on Awa Odori. Yet their legislation was unable to subdue the joyous spirit of the people, and the tradition lived on.