portraits from the Awa Odori festival in Koenji (2018) | all photos by Benjamin Beech

I grew up in Koenji, a small suburb of Tokyo. Every summer the town would host the Awa Odori, one of the grandest festivals I had ever seen. For days leading up to the event I would watch in wonder as preparations were made. A makeshift wooden tower was erected outside the train station, lights and lanterns would be hung and an electric vibe began permeating the shopping streets and among the storekeepers as anticipation built. Then, as the sun set, the lights went on and suddenly a procession of sound, dance and color descended upon the town.

The Awa Odori festival originated in Tokushima over 400 years ago (and almost 400 miles away from Koenji) and is believed to have originated from a drunken celebration commemorating the opening of Tokushima castle. But it wasn’t until 1956 when “locals came up with the idea to start a small dance festival modeled on Tokushima’s infamous event,” explains photographer Benjamin Beech, who’s been attending the Awa Odori festival for the last 8 years. “Migrants from Tokushima Prefecture helped the Koenji team get started and over time this small scale local event started to grow in popularity. It is now the second largest Awa Odori Dance Festival in Japan, consisting of around 12,000 dancers, attracting over a million visitors.”

Beech, with his knack for capturing intimate portraits, was on site last weekend (Aug 25 – 26, 2018) and captured the event. You can see more photos on his website.