Festivities and Dance at Yosakoi Festival Encountering the bright and colorful Kochi Summer festival

The Yosakoi Festival in Kochi is one of Japan’s most popular festivals. We prepared for the festival by creating traditional paper fans, wooden clapping instruments (naruko) and learning the dance in traditional happi coats. Afterwards we set out on the city to view the bright and colorful performances of approximately 200 teams, each with distinct dance, music and apparel.

An Introduction to Yosakoi

Yosakoi is a unique style of Japanese dance that originated from Kochi over 60 years ago. The traditional summer dance spread in popularity throughout Japan is the Yosakoi Festival is one of the largest festival in Shikoku occurring each year from August 9th to 12th in Kochi City. Around 20,000 dancers from about 200 teams around Japan participate and dance throughout the city at 16 different venues from outdoor stages to streets. Each team consists of up to 150 dancers of all ages and many teams come from all around Japan to participate in the big event. The rules are quite open and costumes vary greatly from traditional to modern from team to team.

In Preparation for the festivities

We started out by making Tosa Washi paper fans to help out with the summer heat. At the Tosa Washi Kougei-mura our group got the chance to make our own fans by using traditional dried washi paper, dying to the colors of our preference. There are several styles and designs that can be easily created by using folding or twisting techniques so each of our fans came out quite unique. We were able to create our fans in around 30 minutes or so and had fun comparing our designs and testing out the fans in action. There are also additional paper crafts that can be completed or purchased here including post cards, animal characters and various products using the colored washi paper.

The past, present and future of Yosakoi

With our newly made washi fans, we set out to learn more about Yosakoi at the Kochi Yosakoi Joho Koryukan. The museum is a must-stop if you want to know more about the Yosakoi Festival. Inside the museum there are two sections. The first is a Yosakoi Circle where we could see and hear about the origins of Yosakoi through a guided tour with beautiful pictures, displays and costumes showing the evolution of Yosakoi. There are even a few bold projections at how the festival may evolve in dance and costume over the next 60 years.

The second half of the museum is called the Yosakoi Square and here visitors can get a bit of hands-on experience with Yosakoi. We learned about naruko, small wooden clapping instruments held in each hand that have become a required part of Yosakoi dance. Most teams make their own naruko to match their costumes. Visitors are sometimes able to make or purchase their own set of naruko as a nice souvenir, and our group spent a few minutes making a set of handmade instruments in the colors of our choice. In addition to naruko, dancers typically wear bright and colorful clothing in the form of happi coats or yukata. We tried on the coats to get a feeling of what we would like if we created our own Yosakoi team and took several pictures. We even took some free lessons from the large screens to learn the basics of Yosakoi dance. This is a fun chance to quickly learn the simple dance steps before setting out on the town.

A Quick Break for Lunch and Shopping

For lunch we headed over to the festival starting point area and had ate at the Tosa Select Shop Tencosu and Tencosu Café as we waited for the Yosakoi Festival to begin. This is an interesting place to eat as you can see the teams start to form up and with matching costumes waiting for their turn to go on stage, right outside the windows while you eat. Drinks and cakes served at the cafe uses locally grown products. Under the same roof is also an excellent place to do your souvenir shopping as there are more than 3000 varieties of food and products on display from each of Kochi’s 34 towns. We purchased a few items including a few yuzu and ginger food items and some Kochi and Sakamoto Ryoma related items.

Joining the Yosakoi Festival

Seeing all of the costumed dancers passing by outside got us pretty pumped up so after lunch we set out to join the big event. We started out at a large outdoor stage area where each passing team performed for about ten minutes before moving on the next area. We watched about three or four teams at the first stage which was surrounded by festival stands and all of the excitement you would expect to find in Kochi’s largest event of the year. In addition to viewing the stage performances we also walked down a few covered streets where groups marched by in a different, but equally exciting performance style. The streets become quite friendly and don’t be surprised to be pulled in several times by the passing teams for a quick dance.
We saw teams in traditional Japanese clothing with taiko drummers, teams with families and young children and teams with ultra-modern styles that had electric guitarists connected to the large, decorated trucks called Jikatasha. The number of dancers was around 20,000 this year and each year the event further evolves and integrates new aspects such as cutting edge music, flashy costumes and hairstyles, and dances from around the world.
The Yosakoi Festival is a unique blend of both traditional Japan and the creativity of modern Japan coming together in friendly competition. Kochi is the heart and soul of Yosakoi and the teams here are bringing their absolute best in the street and stage performances found throughout the city. Highly recommended for anyone even remotely interested in visiting Japan.

(Visited in August 2015)