About Tokushima

The Whirlpools of Naruto

The Naruto Straits, between the city of Naruto and Awaji Island is where the Seto Inland Sea meets the Kii Channel. The straits of Naruto are amongst the three most dramatic in the world, standing alongside the Straits of Messina between Sicily and the Italian Peninsula, and the Seymour Narrows of Vancouver Island in Canada. The difference in height between tides here can reach 1.5m, with the currents moving at 15 to 20km/h. This generates countless whirlpools of various sizes ranging up to 20m in diameter. You won't want to miss these whirlpools, a true wonder of nature and some of the largest in the world. The best time to see the whirlpools is one and a half hours around the high or low tides. Prime viewing season is during tides in spring and autumn.

Awa Odori

The Awa Dance (Awa Odori) is Tokushima's largest annual event and boasts a history of over 400 years. The festival is well established in various areas even outside the prefecture, and Awa Dance troupes are regularly invited to events outside of Japan, placing it alongside the Rio Carnivale as one of the largest dance event in the world. Three theories exist regarding the origins of the Awa Dance.One is that the dance is a local version of the Bon Festival dance performed in summer throughout Japan. Another is that it grew from celebrations on the completion of Tokushima Castle held by Masayasu Sogo in 1587, when Lord Hachisuka Iemasa provided rice wine to the townspeople gathered below and the crowd began dancing with abandon.The third theory is connected with the organized dancing troupes known as "Ren" that are a central feature of the Awa Dance, said to show the influence of furyu, an ancient form of dramatic dance that was a predecessor of Noh theatre.There is record in Miyoshi district records from 1663 of a furyu dance at Shozui Castle in 1578, and this performance is thought to be the origin of the Awa Dance in this theory.Promotion of the festival as a tourist event began in the 1920s, the same time when the name "Awa Odori" was adopted. Today the dance is held in many locations throughout the prefecture as the main event of summer, in association with the traditional Bon Festival. By far the most popular area is in Tokushima City where the dance draws some 1.3 million visitors over the period of August 12 to 15, bringing the city center alive with excitement. From 6:00pm to 10:30pm every night of the dance, all of downtown Tokushima becomes a giant dancing stage. Main performances are held in parks and along the main streets at seven dance stages, four plazas, one ‘dance road’ and three large intersections. The Awa Dance is also held in Naruto, Miyoshi, Yoshinogawa, Tsurugi-cho and many other cities and towns throughout the prefecture. All of Tokushima catches the summer fever in preparation for the festival. Another kind of Awa Dance can be enjoyed at the Hana Haru Festa in spring, which features magnificent, energetic dance performances along with other events. It is held at the end of April every year.

Click here to view the map for Awa folk dancing in Tokushima City.

Awa Puppet Theatre

Puppet theatre is a melding of simple puppet plays with Joruri, an ancient form of dramatic narrative accompanied by the music of the shamisen lute. Unlike the Bunraku puppet theatre of Osaka, which relies largely on subtle wordplay and emotional depth, the Awa puppet theatre shows its roots in the popular entertainments of farming people, through its large and flamboyant movements, loud recitation style, and simple melodies. Another defining feature is the use of very large wooden puppets (called deko). Awa puppet theatre, or Awa ningyo joruri, is performed in Tokushima, most regularly on the stage at the Awa no Jurobe residence.

Indigo Dyeing and Shijira Weaving

"Awa means indigo and indigo means Awa" was a byword in Japan during the 18th and 19th centuries, so great was the success that indigo-dyed fabric brought to Tokushima Prefecture (then called Awa Province). The industry began in the late 16th century when the feudal lord Hachisuka Iemasa selected the banks of the Yoshino River as the site for a dyeing industry that he and his successors would patronize. The appearance of chemical dyes in the late 19th century forced the industry into decline, yet today the bulk of the natural indigo dyeing in Japan is still done in Tokushima. Indigo dyeing techniques can be watched and explored at the Ai-no-Yakata or the Aizome Kogeikan Gallery.

The Shikoku Pilgrimage

The Shikoku pilgrimage circuit, called "henro" in Japanese, links 88 temples said to have been founded around the year 815 by the famous Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi (Kukai) to protect pilgrims and others from misfortune. Pilgrims usually visit the temples in their numbered order, making a clockwise circle around the island of Shikoku. Temples 1st (Ryozenji) through 23rd (Yakuoji) and temple 66th (Unpenji) are in Tokushima Prefecture. Nowadays many people who are not devout Buddhists take the pilgrimage as a journey of self-discovery or of healing. Traditionally the pilgrimage is made on foot, taking a month or more, but in modern times many people travel by car, taxi or bus over part or all of the circuit, as their leisure time allows.