[From February Issue 2012]
“Yosakoi Naruko Odori” is a dance that has been recently seen at festivals and events in areas all across Japan. While dancing to music, teams lined up in rows move down the street. The audience shows their support by cheering the dancers on. Flamboyantly decorated trucks, which also function as mobile stages, lead the teams of dancers. Unlike the Bon Dance which is performed in summer, the Yosakoi Naruko Odori is held throughout the year, regardless of the season.
The Yosakoi Naruko Odori originated in Kochi Prefecture in the Shikoku Area. It is thought that the custom has its origins in a traditional dance that was performed indoors to the folk song, “Yosakoi-bushi.” The first Yosakoi Festival was held after the war in August 1954, with the aim of reviving and revitalizing society, bringing health and prosperity to the townspeople.
Yosakoi Naruko Odori has two rules. The first rule states that you have to hold a “naruko” in each of your hands. A naruko is a wooden instrument which, like a pair of castanets, clicks when you shake it. It was originally a farming tool used to drive birds away from crops.
The second rule states that you have to use the phrase “Yosakoi Naruko Odori,” somewhere in the performance. Yosakoi Naruko Odori is a song that TAKEMASA Eisaku, a composer from the Shikoku area, wrote for the Yosakoi Festival. “Nangoku Tosa O Ato Ni Shite” (Leaving Behind Tosa, my Southern Home Town) was also composed by Takemasa and became a big hit when it was sung by Peggy HAYAMA. The local dialect is used in the lyrics of both songs, bringing to life the scenery of the Shikoku area.
Teams can comprise of a few dozen members, to a maximum of 150 members. It’s fun just to watch them perform synchronized dances in their colorful costumes. But the music, made to suit modern tastes by adopting such styles as jazz or rock, is also bursting with originality. Since around 1992, the dance broke out of Kochi and began to gain popularity around Japan. Beginning with the Yosakoi Soran Matsuri Festival in Hokkaido, the Yosakoi Naruko Dance was introduced to various parts of Japan.
Office worker OTA Akane saw the Yosakoi Naruko Odori while on vacation and was charmed by it. About two years later she joined the Yosakoi Naruko Odori Circle in Tokyo. “The members of the circle vary in age and occupation, but when we dance together, in an instant, we feel united. I think the Yosakoi Naruko Odori impresses the audience because the performers themselves are really getting a kick out of it,” she says.
In order to deepen ties made through Yosakoi, the “All Japan Yosakoi Meeting” is held annually in Kochi Prefecture by the Kochi City Tourism Association. Held at five locations around Kochi City on the final day of August’s Yosakoi Festival, this event first took place in 1999. Now around 70 teams and about 5,800 people from within and without the prefecture take part in the event.
Yosakoi is a festival that can be adapted to match the spirit of the times as well as the local culture. The tradition takes root in different regions and buds, contributing to the revitalization of that area.
Text: MUKAI Natsuko