The Yosakoi Dance Festival in Kochi
Quite often these days with all the Covid-19 restrictions, rules and travel bans, one question keeps coming up. Where shall we travel as soon as the travel restrictions are lifted?
I know very well where I will like to travel, where I will like to go back. Back to Kochi in Japan and join again the Yosakoi dance festival as we did in 2019.
Let me tell you bellow about one of the most memorable holidays that we ever had, our Yosakoi dance festival experience.
Visiting Kochi in Japan
Most travelers when they visit Japan, tend to travel to the well-known cities across the country, Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, Kobe, etc. We wanted to go off the beaten track and avoid the tourist traps.
So, when I ask a Japanese friend of mine to recommend some less well-known places, he said “if you are going to Japan in August, you must visit Kochi and enjoy the Yosakoi dance festival. So, we did just that!
We flown with British Airways from London Heathrow to Tokyo International Airport an eleven and a half hours flight and from there with Japan Airlines in an hour and twenty minutes we were at Kochi Ryoma Airport in Nankoku city.
Yosakoi Dance Festival – Kochi 2019
The Yosakoi festival is one of Japan’s most celebrated festivals, it takes place the second week of August, from the 9th to the 12th for 4 days in the heart of Kochi City.
Around 18,000 dancers participate in more than 200 teams, including many teams from abroad, like US and Europe.
The participants in the festival wear traditional Japanese costumes, as they parade through the Kochi city, dancing and performing well orchestrated choreographies. In their hands they hold wooden hand clappers called “Naruko”.
Originally “Naruko” was an instrument used by Japanese farmers to scare and deter crows and other pests from attacking and destroying the rice fields. If used correctly they make quite a loud noise.
Also, it is considered a traditional toy for young kids. These days the Naruko hand clappers are used in Japanese dance festivals such as the Yosakoi, as a rhythm instrument held by the dancers.
What does Yosakoi means?
That was my first question to our hostess in Kochi. Apparently the “Yosakoi” name comes from “Yosakoi Bushi” which is a folk song, from the Edo era (between 1603 & 1868) indigenous to the Tosa region, a former province of Japan in the area that is today the Kochi prefecture on Shikoku island.
The song is describing a love affair between a monk and a beautiful woman. “Yosakoi” means come and visit at night, and “Bushi” means warrior often used to refer to Samurai. So “Yosakoi Bushi” means, come and visit at night Samurai!
If you would like to hear a really beautiful version of the “Yosakoi Bushi” folk song check out the video here.
What are the rules of the Yosakoi Dance Festival?
The rules are actually quite simple, the Yosakoi dancers are required to march forward dancing while holding the “naruko” clappers in their hands.
The dancers have to incorporate phrases from the “Yosakoi Bushi” song into their dance music.
However, the style of the dance is free style. Participants can dance their own way and bring their own choreography. The regular participants in the festival are taking it very seriously and there is fierce competition between the teams to outperform each other.
There are also some teams who are open to join them for a small fee and participate in this vibrant festival from the inside.
It doesn’t really matter if you speak the local language or not, as long as you hold “naruko” in your hands and you are ready for a dance, you can join in. That’s the spirit of the Yosakoi festival. Yosakoi makes the world smile!
If you are not brave enough to join in, you can watch Yosakoi teams dancing throughout the day for free!
Since you are in the city you have to visit the Kochi Castle. A very well-preserved castle with a wonderful museum next to it. The Kochi castle is actually one of the twelve Japanese castles with its original towers still intact.
The entrance to the gardens and the surrounding area is for free but if you wish to climb to the top of the castle, there is a fee of 300 Yen each (Two Pounds).
Also make sure you have a small plastic bag with you to put your shoes in, as you will be asked to take them off in order to climb the internal wooden staircase which is quite steep. So, make sure you have a thick pair of socks on.
The views from the top are magnificent, well worth the effort of climbing up and down the steep staircase.
The Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden
This is another of our favorite spots in Kochi, the Makino botanical gardens are well worth a visit. A stunning display of orchids as well as some giant lily pads in the green house. Over 3000 different species of plants and flowers are in the botanical gardens.
You must see to appreciate and enjoy these lovely gardens. Make sure you allocate 3-4 hours at least for your visit, so you don’t rush. If you get thirsty or fancy a quick snack there is small cafe on the side of the botanical gardens.
Where to stay in Kochi
During our seven days in Kochi we stayed at Sansuien. A very beautiful Ryokan, which is a type of traditional Japanese inn, with a beautifully maintained garden. There was also a nice spa available for the guests to come and relax after a long day sight-seen.
The Makino Botanical Garden are within a short taxi ride from Sansuien, the Kochi Castel, was less than 10 minutes by foot and the city center was another 15 minutes stroll.