“Yosakoi Festival” Kochi, Japan 2013
Recently, I went to Kochi City to see the Yosakoi Festival for the second time. Not too far from Tokushima, Kochi prefecture is home to another dance festival called the Yosakoi Festival. Unlike the Awa Odori Festival in Tokushima, Yosakoi has a relatively short history dating back to 1954. During the 1954 recession in Japan, the festival was proposed and promoted mainly on the initiative of the local Chamber of Commerce as a means of dispelling the gloom and encouraging the local people. Every year for four days from August 9-12, the Yosakoi Festival dancers swarm the city of Kochi. In the local dialect “Yosakoi!” means “Come on over tonight!” Each of the participating groups orchestrates their own dance performance at various places in the city’s downtown commercial districts. The festival currently features roughly 15,000 dancers in about 130 groups.
Dance groups must follow two basic rules that state the participating teams must use the Yosakoi Naruko Odori Uta, or the dancing song, which is based on “Yosakoi Bushi,” the traditional local folk tunes and that all the dancers must perform while holding clappers, which makes a sound similar to a castanet. Teams are free to wear whatever costumes they like and any style of dancing is allowed. In recent years, young people have begun incorporating other musical genres into their performances, including rock, hip-hop, samba, and reggae. This was a fun festival to watch and it was clear that all the dance groups had worked hard on their performances – however, when the Awa Odori dance festival is in your backyard, it’s hard to appreciate the differences. The Awa Odori dance festival dates back over 500 years, where as the Yosakoi recently celebrated its 59th anniversary only. Also, there are many opportunities for spectators to try the basic movements of the Awa Odori dance with various dance groups. However, with no traditional dance style, Yosakoi is purely a spectator festival it appeared. Despite having to be compared to one of the largest dance festivals in all of Japan 3-hours away in Tokushima, the Yosakoi is definitely worth checking out! But bring some earplugs if you want to catch the action up close, because each group is led by an massive van that blasts music at a deafening volume!