The awa odori matsuri is part of the Obon (including bon odoris) festival season which celebrates the spirits of the dead (similar to Halloween in the west) and dates back to the twelfth century and is famed in the Tokushima prefecture, where the biggest awa odori festivals are held. Koenji has its own spectacular take on the festival, with over a hundred groups of dancers and musicians playing the lute, drums (taiko), flute (shinobue), and cymbals or the kane bell while dancing in a parade. The music of the drums is epic and you feel it like standing next to the speaker at a wompy dub show [recording]. It’s pretty hard to resist the urge to join in the dance yourself! The food consists of typical festival fare, with most of it sold by locals or stalls operating from restaurants or conbinis.
Each group does their own dance in various styles, including the ‘dance of fools’ which involves some graceful handwaving and big smiles all around. The dance originates from a large 16th century castle opening where everyone drank copious amounts of sake and started staggering about while friends joined in with instruments. I had a bit of sake myself as the festival wound down, joining a few new friends for gyooza (fried dumplings) and a drink or two. Koenji is a vibrant and friendly part of Tokyo that I would recommend to any nightlife lover. There is a multitude of izekaya and restaurants underneath and around the train tracks with cheap drinks and friendly staff. The district also has a lot of clothing shops, new and used, for any fashion lovers out there.