Dancers perform at the Dream Yosakoi Festival (ドッリーム夜さ来い祭り) in Tokyo's Akihabara district. The festival wrapped up its 15th event Sunday, with performances held across the capital.
The Yosakoi (夜さ来い) Festival has come a long way. What started in 1954 in Kochi, Shikoku, as an attempt to rejuvenate people's spirits through dance after years of war and postwar uncertainty, has now spread across Japan and to other parts of the globe.
"Yosakoi has had the savvy to adapt."
Like all things that don’t want to be confined to the musty odor of history, Yosakoi has had the savvy to adapt. The original festival had simple requirements; dancers should make use of ‘naruko’, hand-held, wooden clappers used to scare away birds, and dances should be performed to a folk song called 'Yosakoi Bushi'. Scope for plenty of change and creativity then.
(Dance group in Odaiba, Tokyo)
Dream Yosakoi is an example of how this festival form can adapt. Founded in 2002 under the ideal of ‘uniting the world’s dreams’, the event has gone on to become one of the largest festivals held in Tokyo. 2016 saw Yosakoi dances on display in several locations across the capital including the main hub of Odaiba, outside the red-brick facade of Tokyo Station, and Akihabara. Organizers registered some 80 teams of over 6,000 dancers, ready to charge, stomp, strut, and dance down festival thoroughfares.
The naruko can still be seen at Dream Yosakoi, but you’re just as likely to see whirling umbrellas, traditional fans, and flourishes of other materials.
(Yosakoi dancer, Akihabara, Tokyo)
Costumes, hairstyles, choreography, and musical compositions are at the mercy of each dance group’s creativity and imagination, and thus reflect the trends and tastes of a nation bound by tradition, but mad to embrace all things new, cute, and cool. In a similar way the same can be said for the dancers in many of the groups; Japan’s students, and 30s-40s workforce leading the charge, the kids and elders supporting from the rear.
"... in Japan there’s movement, sweat, grace, drama, guttural howls, ..."
Dance displays at Dream Yosakoi came as a surprise to this festival goer; the energy, teamwork, and pride on display is nothing short of moving. Even wrapped in my usual pashmina of cynicism, I can hand on heart say that some of the dances gave me goosebumps. There really should be no surprise though; Japan does traditional festivals really, really well. Where Western counterparts might involve some balloons, bunting, and a bunch of people mostly sitting and eating, in Japan there’s movement, sweat, grace, drama, guttural howls, euphoric cheers, delicate touches, community, reverence, and fun; all of which are emphatically on display at Dream Yosakoi.
"Dream Yosakoi shows that tradition, dance, community, and pride are still forces to be reckoned with."
The idea of a festival or dance being enough to break through postwar gloom may seem naive, and I don’t know how successful the original festival was back in 1954. Today though, in the face of constitutional changes, welfare strains, budget concerns, overwork, and population decline, Dream Yosakoi shows that tradition, dance, community, and pride are still forces to be reckoned with. Here’s hoping the people behind it continue to adapt and embrace change to bring another festival to Tokyo (and beyond) in 2017.
(Announcer at the Odaiba site)
If you were in attendance at Dream Yosakoi Festival 2016, we want to hear from you. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. In the mean time enjoy our images taken over Saturday and Sunday at this year's event.
Dream Yosakoi event, Odaiba, Tokyo
Dream Yosakoi event, Akihabara, Tokyo
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Dream Yosakoi Festival (ドッリーム夜さ来い祭り) homepage: http://www.dreamyosacoy.jp/