Most people with an interest in Japan are aware that the summer season is one of many matsuri (festivals) which are often accompanied with copious amounts of music playing, dancing, eating, and drinking. Although the Harajuku Omotesando Genki Matsuri festival is one of the largest dance festival organized in Tokyo during that season, what makes it truly special is the actual type of dancing that is being performed, the Yosakoi. Compared to other traditional summer dances, the origin of Yosakoi is a lot more recent and it is therefore a lot more influenced by pop culture. What better place to organize Japan's most important Yosakoi festival than in the center of youth and fashion, the district of Harajuku? Let's explore the whole Yosakoi in more details!
Origins and nature of Yosakoi (よさこい)
The Yosakoi Naruko Dance festival first took place in 1954 in the Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. It was largely inspired by the Awa odori, a traditional dance also originating from Shikoku (Tokushima Prefecture). The specificity of Yosakoi is its highly energetic choreographies performed upon upbeat, high tempo songs whose arrangements borrow as much from pop songs as they do from more traditional tunes. Yosakoi dancers usually use a pair of naruko, small wooden clappers originally used to scares crows away from crop fields.
Two dancer holding naruko
The relative freedom that Yosaki has compared to more traditional dances results in a great diversity in music styles, moves, and costumes displayed by each team of dancers. Some can even be based on movie, manga, music, or even commercial characters. The teams can include a great number f dancers and the average age usually young.
Total freedom of style and music
Musically, even though the styles are free, the songs must include some parts of the original Yosakoi Naruko Dancing song written by Takemasa Eisaku, but this end up not being a difficult requirement and much creativity can be expressed. This freedom is likely to be the reason why so many young people have an interest in Yosakoi.
Dancers performing the nagashi odori
A Yosakoi performance can be given on a stage, but originally, just like the Awa odori, Yosakoi is a marching dance. Teams are often led by a vividly decorated truck mounted with a sound system delivering the songs upon which the dancers will performed. These trucks also often include some singers that accompany the melody or simply cheer their team.
Lively stage display accompanied with massive flags
The Harajuku Omotesando Genki Matsuri Super Yosakoi Festival
Genki in Japanese means enthusiastic and energetic. Yosakoi dancers are certainly that. The festival runs over a full weekend, with teams dancing all day, succeeding to each other on the various stages located in Meiji-jingu, Harajuku station, and Yoyogi koen. In addition to that, on the Sunday, the dancers also perform the nagashi odori, the marching version of their choreographies on the street that links Omotesando station to Harajuku crossing that has been closed for the occasion.
Highlights of the stage Yosakoi performances of the Saturday
The festival welcomes over 6,000 dancers in more than 100 teams coming from all over Japan. The event goes on all day and of course, as any other matsuri, many foods and drinks sold in the street can be enjoyed while watching the performances.
To go further: