Koenji Awa Odori Festival
Bright costumes, thousands of dance moves and bone-rattling drums will leave you in a trance.
Colorful dancers with onlookers lining the streets for one of Tokyo’s biggest summer events where visitors soak up Japanese festival culture. The history of the Awa dance dates back more than 400 years, and the Koenji Awa Odori Festival has been celebrated for more than 60 years.
It’s estimated to draw over 1 million attendees over its two days on the last weekend in August. Each day starting from 5 p.m., there is a three-hour parade of rhythmic music and dance involving over 10,000 dancers, including some adorable children’s groups.
The performers start simultaneously around the route, so you don’t need to wait for the parade to reach you. Each dance group has its own unique style, chanting, music and matching yukatas, and after about an hour you will have seen a decent representation. The graceful dance of the women with their precision hand and foot movements is matched by the more wild and energetic dance of the men.
Don’t let the high participation figures scare you away; the course is spread out over almost five kilometers, so we didn’t find it too crowded. It is suggested to arrive at least two hours before the start of the parade and do like the locals, claim your viewing spot.
The parade is free to view, and a map of parade route (Japanese only) is available here.
The little neighborhood of Koenji is just 10 minutes northwest of Shinjuku and has a nice mix of narrow shopping streets surrounded by residential housing. The festival is in the area immediately surrounding the JR station, so there is no guesswork once you exit the platform. The town starts bustling fairly early on, with locals staking out their favorite viewing spots and yakitori grills firing up hours before the actual parade begins.
For more festivities, see our festivals section.