Name in Japanese: よさこい祭り
Pronunciation: yosakoi matsuri
Date: Second weekend of August
Address: Kochi, Kochi Prefecture
Summer is one of the prime times for big festivals in Shikoku, and Kochi’s summer festival is one of Japan’s most salient ones. The highlight of the local year is a three-day dance/parade extravaganza in August, called ‘Yosakoi’. What the word means exactly is open to interpretation, but the general sense is ‘let the good times roll’, and there’s a strong hint of nocturnal naughtiness to it (Kochi’s births are concentrated nine-months after Yosakoi).
During the Japanese holiday, Obon, over 10,000 dancers in dozens of teams throng the main streets and thoroughfares, beating time with small wooden clappers called naruko. The costumes are colourful and fantastic, and a highlight is the decorated trucks which head up each team, staffed by hard-core carnival party animals blasting out music from their huge speakers.
Every team is free to arrange its own style of music, but it must include at least part of the festival’s official song, the Yosakoi Naruko Dance. The festival ends with a parade down Otesuji-dori Avenue and a huge fireworks display, lasting 90 minutes.
Especially good dancers proudly wear ribbons awarded by the judges, and there’s an overall winning team each year. Teams are organized by companies, businesses and localities, and a lot of them are put together by izakaya – informal pub/restaurants, for which Kochi City centre is renowned.
A festival is really a way for a town to bare its soul and show the world what it’s made of and Yosakoi displays the quintessential character of Kochi City – it’s loud, gaudy, cheerful, ever-changing and irreverent, with the women of the town definitely front and centre. You’ll never see the same Yosakoi twice, and you’ll definitely never see a dull one.