Koenji Awa Odori Festival 2017
There's no better time to visit the eclectic neighbourhood of Koenji than for its annual Awa Odori Festival. Held over the last Saturday and Sunday of August each year, the streets come alive with upwards of 1 million spectators fighting for prime real-estate to get a glimpse of the 10,000 strong performers dancing, singing and chanting in traditional Tokushima fashion.
Like many Japanese summer festivals, if you don't enjoy the push and shove of crowds then this isn't the event for you. Pictures better illustrate the chaos as we snaked our way from Asagaya to Koenji under the JR Chuo Line. This particular evening, Scott and Myrna, two guests from my Tokyo West-Side Cycling & Food Jaunt, opted to brave the crowds and accompany my family to the festival.
There's no shortage of places to eat and drink in this boisterous neighbourhood but arrive early if wish to secure a seat at one of Koenji's popular yakitori stores around the station area. The atmosphere under the train line was electric with visitors and locals alike enjoying each others company.
The cool summer breeze was a welcome change from the persistent humidity, making navigating the streets a little more comfortable than your typical crowd saturated summer festival.
As we reached the entrance to Koenji's Pal Shotengai, dance teams in their 'geta' sandals, braided hats and traditional costume were preparing themselves for the start of their figure 8 route around the neighbourhood's tight rustic streets.
Pressing deeper into the heart of the festival the energy of the drums, chanting and dancing was intoxicating.
Both the men and women looked equally spectacular representing their teams in traditional dress.
Good viewing spots were hard to come by, but this young girl on her father's shoulders had the right idea.
The public square to the north side of Koenji Station was transformed into a Tokushima themed eating and drinking grounds. A great opportunity, or excuse, to indulge in more few more beers topped off with a slice of sudachi, a citrus fruit from Tokushima.
The action close to the performers was intense. This manic drummer whipped the drunken crowded into a frenzy, getting even the tiredest of spectators to their feet and chanting furiously.
And as quickly as it had started, it was all over for the performance side of the evening.
While some made their way home, the night had just begun for others as the crowd flowed outwards into Koenji's already crowded bars, izakayas, yakitoriyas and anywhere that served a drink.
The police presence was noticeable but there wasn't a hint of trouble on this festive evening.
Dancers mingled with the crowd on the way back to their bases to get changed and enjoy the festivities with their fellow performers, friends and family.
The celebrations and drinking under the train line was still going strong into the late hours. There was definitely no shortage of people wanting to share a beer or pose for a photo!
The BBQ seafood was a wise option for a final bite to eat before we called it quits. The small portable grills pumping out squid, shrimp and shellfish kept guests content and firmly on their stools drinking into the early hours.
And that was it for us at the 2017 Koenji Awaodori Festival.
Outstanding performances and great community vibes in one of Tokyo's most welcoming neighbourhoods.
2018 is just around the corner!
Koenji Awa-Odori Festival website: www.koenji-awaodori.com/language/eng.html