Yosakoi: The Japanese Dance You Need To Know About

Yosakoi dancer
Yosakoi is a bright and energetic Japanese dance

What is Yosakoi?

Yosakoi is a Japanese dance style that blends modern and traditional Japanese dance and music. You can find colourful and energetic Yosakoi performances at festivals and events across Japan, and all around the world! The dance is known for its fun and vibrant performances, so keep an eye out for it the next time you visit a Japanese festival or try watching a Yosakoi video on YouTube – you won’t regret it.

How it started

The traditional style of Japanese dancing is believed to be a variation of Awa Odori, a traditional summer dance originating in Tokushima, Japan. The first Yosakoi festival was held in 1954 in Kochi City, Shikoku. Nowadays, there are many chances to see Yosakoi in festivals throughout Japan. However, my recommendations are the ‘Yosakoi Soran Festival’ in Sapporo and the ‘Kochi Yosakoi Festival,’ which are held every year in June and August respectively.

‘Yosakoi’ originally means “come at night”(夜さ来い)

The various costumes of Yosakoi

Since Yosakoi is usually performed in summer, traditional festival clothing such as happi coats and yukata are common costumes. Costumes can also be designed to have multiple costumes underneath, which are revealed throughout the course of the performance. The large number of dancers also allows for interesting formations as different coloured costumes create patterns and shapes that are stunning to look at.

The unique instruments of Yosakoi

Yosakoi not only has interesting costumes but unique instruments as well! One of which is the ‘naruko,’ a wooden clapper instrument that was originally used to scare birds away from rice fields, but is now used by Yosakoi dancers. Aside from naruko, drums, flags, fans, umbrellas, batons, floats, and more can also be used in performances to add sound, colour and movement.

Naruko is a wooden clapper instrument used in Yosakoi dancing

Interested in giving Yosakoi a go? I spoke to the Melbourne Yosakoi group ZEN to find out all you need to know to begin dancing:

Can anyone do Yosakoi?

Yes! You do not need any prior experience or special equipment in order to join most Yosakoi teams. You also don’t need to be able to speak Japanese to do Yosakoi. There are a lot of non-Japanese Yosakoi dancers and teams in different parts of the world. In fact, Yosakoi is quite popular in certain countries outside of Japan, such as Vietnam and Taiwan.

What kinds of performances are there?

Yosakoi is typically performed in summer at festivals and events. While there are many styles of Yosakoi out there, there are typically 2 main styles: energetic (which sometimes do not involve the use of Narukos) and graceful (which generally require Narukos). Both styles are unique and interesting in their own way!

A recent performance by Yosakoi group ZEN

What is the best part about doing Yosakoi?

I find that Yosakoi encourages unity and comradery between members as the best Yosakoi performances involve a high level of synchronisation. There is a sense of joyfulness and energy with Yosakoi dances, and so dancers and the audience always have a lot of fun during performances.

How do I start learning Yosakoi?

There are many Yosakoi groups around the world, so have a look online and see if you can get in touch with a group near you. If you are in Melbourne, Australia feel free to come and join ZEN, as we are always open to meeting new people who are interested in Yosakoi!

The ZEN Yosakoi group is currently accepting new members, so if you are in Melbourne and want to give Yosakoi a go, get in touch with Zen via Instagram or Facebook!

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Yasmin McGarva

Yasmin is in her final year of a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Japanese and Media and Communications. She has undertaken a semester exchange at Hokkaido University and volunteered with ISA Australia as a group leader teaching English in schools throughout Japan. With a deep interest in cultural exchange, Yasmin aspires to work connecting Australia with Japan and the Indo-Pacific region.

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