Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Tokushima [Awa Ikeda] :The town that just can't stop dancing.

There is only one spring when you are 16, only one summer when you are 18 and only one winter when you are 21.

I had only one spring when I was 16, a spring I have no recollections of.
However, I believe my summer of 18 is making up for all the memories I forgot to make when I was 16 and the years before that.

Becoming stronger by meeting people who have survived unthinkable disasters, listening to their stories and being touched right in the depths of my soul by their strength; discovering hope and traveling all the way down to the south to discover music and dance really does transcend through culture, race and language. That it really is the language of the heart.

It's been a few months since I have moved to Japan and less than a month before I turn 19 years old. Therefore I want to write down all my traveling experiences within Japan and share not only my story but people who I come across. I want to show you the Japan that isn't written in high school textbooks and tourist brochures.

Although I have been to quite a few places, I will start off with my latest trip to Tokushima in the Shikoku islands, south of Japan since the feeling of the trip is still fresh and alive!

So in Tokushima, I went for the Awa Odori festival which is a type of Bon odori (dance), done during the Obon( a traditional festival/holiday for the Japanese people where they believe during these three days their ancestors' spirits come to visit them).  Awa Odori is quite famous so I won't go into details about the festival because you can actually find out more details from the internet rather than my biased explanation.

  Awa Ikeda was the name of the town where we were planning to dance along with the locals.  I traveled from Tokyo with other members who also were going to Tokushima and participating for the first time. Our team was called 「あっぱ連 」Apparen which stands for the highest and lowest of emotions (although it's really hard to literally translate in English).

Although the dance was traditional and nothing like how you dance in night clubs and studios, the feeling was exhilarating and as much as tiring as any other dance.We moved through the narrow streets. Bending our backs like old men, trying to synchronize our arms and feet while taking steps forward, trying to match with the pace of the drums. And did, I mention smiling throughout all of it? Just as the phrase of awa odori, "Odori was yamerarenai," we literally couldn't stop dancing. The whole mood of the festival was so contagious,

Awa Odori wasn't the only 'first' I had in Tokushima. I experienced a lot of other firsts like buying my first yukata with a whole set for a ridiculously cheap price comparing to Tokyo. Trying out my first senkou hanabi (Japanese firesticks/sparklers however you call them). I also saw my first 'Yankee' or delinquent as you may call. (Bleached hair, pompadour and tanned skin?)

And I thought they were just a myth or characters that existed only in 90s mangas. I couldn't have been more wrong. They were everywhere in Tokushima. It was like the whole population was secretly hiding down there. They were in front of the train stations, in the bath houses and even dancing awa Odori! And before you jump to conclusion, Yankees are NOT bad guys. According to Lily and Kyoji from Apparen, it's a phase kids get into during high school and some, some they just never grow out of it. I guess in a way it's a fashion subculture, as good as gyaru (NO JOKES).

 The footwear for our dance costume was called 'Tabi' made out of cloth and thin like socks. Except they were footwear. As I walked in my tabi, I could feel the rock and pebbles underneath my feet, poking me. It was as good as walking bare feet and I guess, it is also partly thanks to them that I had a wonderful time. As I danced in the street touching the road under my feet I felt like I was embedding my prints in the town, leaving marks that allowed me to connect with this tiny town.

As crazy as it may sound, this to be honest has been a life changing experience. By far the greatest
Yes, there were other times than this trip when I had fun. The type of fun where I felt like I was living the best moment of my life- enjoying it to the fullest. However, this trip offered a different kind of episode. It allowed me to figure out things like, traveling is actually way more fun and satisfying than alcohol or any kind of drug (Not that I have ever tried it though). It allowed me to rediscover my curious younger self who died down somewhere along the path to growing up.  The younger me that had always been enthusiastic towards learning about others culture and the one that slowly developed a reverse mentality once I discovered people didn't reciprocate that interest.  This trip allowed me to throw away my lazy and narrow minded views that I had developed these past few years.

Awa Ikeda is like many other places in Japan that I have yet to set foot in. The town's warmth, degrees higher than Tokyo. There are people like me who already feel like Tokyo people are super kind. However, it's quite interesting that the further you go away from the city, the kindness level just seems to increase rapidly.

As Manabu san, our group leader said, this tiny town Ikeda was 'charming'. This tiny town once famous for their strong high school baseball team. This tiny town where children and elders alike dance to the same rhythm and this tiny town, where I spent my last 18th summer.

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