Every year in June, as the temperature rises and the sunsets later, thousands of participants and millions of spectators gather Odori Park here in Sapporo for festivities and to dance! For five days, hundreds of teams from all over Japan perform in the center of town, dancing along the streets with colorful costumes and exciting music. A traditional folk dance from Southern Japan, Yosakoi has become a worldwide phenomenon and one of the biggest events is held in Sapporo.
What is Yosakoi?
Yosakoi was originally a festival from Kochi prefecture, with the first festival being held in 1954. During the festivals, there would be an official yosakoi dance, where members wore costumes based on yukata and other traditional costumes along with a wooden naruko clapper, used originally to scare birds away from rice fields. Another requirement was to include some part of the official Yosakoi Naruko Dancing song.
Yosakoi is open to all, anyone from children to the elderly are free to join, with teams consisting of students, company employees, or local community members. Nowadays, yosakoi dances are held around the world, with many regions having their own interpretation and rules.
Yosakoi has become so popular it inspired an entire manga series called Hanayamata, published from 2011 to 2018, which has been adapted into an anime series and even has its own video game.
Yosakoi now is a highly coordinated performance featuring choreographed dances, live music, lights, colorful flags, larger than life flags, and an energy that is communicated to the audience through the spirit and enthusiasm of the performers. A traditional flair of modern-day hip-hop dance would be my closest interpretation, but it’s something you have to experience first-hand.
Yosakoi in Sapporo: Yosakoi Soran
I am sure many of you have noticed, but the event is called Yosakoi Soran in Sapporo. Soran is from Soran Bushi, a traditional folk song people in Hokkaido sang when pulling up nets when fishing. Keeping with the yosakoi theme, Yosakoi Soran requires performers to also have a naruko, and implement part of the Soran Bushi in their performance. Starting in 1992, every year during Yosakoi Soran, the main streets in Sapporo are closed for five days, where teams perform from day until night, parading through Odori and Susukino area.
This year, the 27th Yosakoi Soran, was no different, with teams from all over the country, such as Yokohama, performing and competing. Held from 6/6 to 6/10, this year it was cold and rainy at times, but nevertheless the show went on.
Eager to join in on the festivities, I went into town and checked it out on the weekend.
Even during the day, it was only 13 degrees, quite cold for summer!
Despite the cold weather, spectators gathered to cheer on the performers, who warmed everyone up with their performances.
Aside from performances, Odori park was lined with food stalls, with visitors enjoying a snack and refreshments while many teams relaxed and prepared for their next performance. Often times, teams perform as much as five times a day, so don’t worry about missing a team!
While strolling through the stalls I picked an interesting both: gyaku burger, or reverse hamburger! I didn’t have to chance to try it out, but it certainly was interesting.
Also, this year marked the 150th year anniversary of the naming of Hokkaido, and there were limited edition Coca-Cola cans on sale, with special Yosakoi designs, including the naruko.
Yosakoi Soran is the most popular on the weekends, and one can buy tickets for parade during the day, or for the stands during the tournament during the evening. Tickets go for around 2,000 yen, and for parade tickets, you can move around and view the dances up close.
If you weren’t able to buy tickets or don’t want to pay the money, here’s a top tip: Performances are also held at the nearby Ario Mall, next to the Sapporo Beer Garden, for free! Since Ario Mall is a further from the center of town, there aren’t too many crowds and you can nab a seat close to the front or get an aerial view from the balcony for free.
After watching performances, you can join on the dancing with family-friendly areas where you can the whole family can try it out it for free! Some people even dress up in wacky costumes.
Whether it’s the history, the music, the costumes, or the dancing, it’s hard to describe what yosakoi is. Here is Hokkaido, the Yosakoi Soran has become it’s own festival, and has become a unique part of Hokkaido culture. Perhaps the next time you come to Hokkaido, you can come experience it yourself, or maybe even participate!
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