By Anastasia Wass
On Saturday January 28, a group of Japanese students from Shikoku University visited our class to teach us about Japanese culture. They came to the United States as part of the Kakehashi program, a fully-funded youth cultural exchange program, for students from Japan and the United States to experience and learn about each other’s cultures.
The students from Shikoku University presented many new and interesting aspects of Japanese culture, through presentations and interactive stations. One activity that struck me was the Awa dance, a traditional dance from the Tokushima prefecture in Shikoku, Japan.
Shikoku, home to Shikoku University, is known for their Awa Dance Festival, which is held for a few days of August of every summer as part of the larger Obon Festival. It is the largest dance festival in Japan, attracting many tourists every year. But the tradition of the Awa dance goes back much further. There is record of similar dances in the area as early as the 1300s.
Female and male dancers have distinct dances, in part due to the different costumes of the dancers. Male dancers dressed in the looser yukata dance a crouched dance that allows for much more freedom of movement, whereas female dancers wearing the more restrictive Kimonos, dance with a more lifted upright posture. Today, however, dancers can participate in either dance regardless of gender.
We were taught a simplified version of the Awa dance as a healthy exercise. The dance steps were all simple, but the pace of the movements was meant to make the activity a more strenuous exercise. I found that the dance was relaxing, and after doing the movements, I felt less stressed. The movements were complex enough that my mind was occupied, but not so much that I was scrambling to keep up. And I liked the idea of connecting with such an old and culturally meaningful dance through a more modern lens.