Dance Through Kochi’s Streets and History at the Yosakoi Dance Festival
August 18, 2016
Yosakoi Dancers in Obiyamachi Shopping Arcade
There is no end of interesting festivals to attend in Japan. Every prefecture, big city and small town has its own festivals that reveal much about the culture and history of the places where they are held.
Kochi Prefecture's most famous festival is the Yosakoi dance festival held every year from August 9-12. Spectators come from all over Japan to watch the close to 20,000 dancers parading through Kochi's normally busy downtown streets. Some of the teams also come from larger cities – including Tokyo and Hiroshima – to dance in Yosakoi.
A Team From Hiroshima Performs on Stage at Kochi Castle
Modern and Traditional
The festival is both unapologetically modern and strongly tied to Japan's rich artistic history. Begun in 1954 to shake off recession and raise spirits following the Second World War, the festival is still relatively new and this newness is reflected in the music and costume choices of some of the groups. You might find groups dancing to Samba, rock and roll, and contemporary pop music as well as enka and the original Yosakoi Naruko Odori song.
Dancers in Traditional Costume with Naruko
Yosakoi Takes Over Kochi’s Downtown – Parks are filled with colourful dancers resting and waiting for their next performance
The majority of groups dance in traditional, though often still colourful, outfits like kimono and happi. Honiya is one of the most famous groups, often featured on posters and in advertisements for the festival, and has been participating in Yosakoi for about twenty years. Honiya is a retail store in Obiyamachi focused on sharing "modern Japanese traditional" designs with its customers, and the dancers’ costumes share this aesthetic. Honiya means "oh, really" in Tosa-ben, one of Kochi's dialects, and is used to show interest in what someone else is saying. This quippy interjection reflects the fun and free style of the store, the team, and the Yosakoi festival itself.
A Large Crowd Gathers to See Dancers on Stage at Central Par
Many teams are sponsored by local businesses like SunnyMart supermarket or larger ones like Toyota and Asahi Beer. Companies and schools, including Kochi City Office and Kochi University, often field their own teams as well.
However different their music and costume styles, all groups carry the iconic naruko. Naruko are hand-held wooden clappers originally used in Kochi Prefecture to scare birds away from the rice fields. The first kanji 鳴is for the chirp of a bird or other animal call, recalling this history.
Traditional Red, Black and Yellow Naruko
In the past they were painted red, yellow, and black, but are now painted a variety of colours to match the teams' costumes.
Multi-coloured Naruko at the Yosakoi Museum
Naruko are also available for purchase as souvenirs at shops such as Harimaya near Harimaya Bridge and Obiyamachi.
Kochi Yosakoi Museum
Discover the History of Yosakoi at the Yosakoi Museum
Those not in Kochi during the festival itself can still experience Yosakoi at the Yosakoi Museum. Located near Culport and less than a ten minute walk from Obiyamachi, the museum recounts the history of Yosakoi and even has an area where visitors can dress up, borrow some naruko, and learn a few quick steps.
The Kochi Yosakoi Museum
Entrance to the Museum Lined With Posters From Yosakoi Past and Present
Location: 10-1, 1-chome, Harimaya-cho, Kochi City 780-0822
Hours: 10am-6:30pm (last admission at 6pm). Closed Wednesdays and between Dec 29 and Jan 1.
So, what does Yosakoi mean anyways? In old Japanese 夜さ来い (yosakoi) means "come at night" or “you are welcome at night,” so if you happen to be strolling down Otetsuji or Obiyamachi on a warm summer night, why not come and check out the Yosakoi festival or museum?
The Yosakoi Festival is held all over downtown Kochi: Central Park, Otetsuji, Obiyamachi, Kochi Castle and a few other smaller streets in and around these main ones.
From Kochi Station you can take the tram two stops or it’s about a 10min walk to Otetsuji or Obiyamachi. It’s another 10-15 minutes to Kochi Castle.
Currently working as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in Kochi City, Sarah is a Canadian expat who spends her free time exploring Kochi Prefecture and trying to devise a better way to keep the tanukis out of her garden. She enjoys going to local festivals and eating too much mochi.