What is Yosakoi?

Yosakoi is a Japanese dance style which combines elements of traditional Japanese dance and music with a large variety of modern influences, and is performed at a number of festivals throughout Japan.

Yosakoi incorporates traditional Japanese folk music (Min’yō), and dance (such as Nihon Buyō and Bon Odori) as well as jazz, rock, hip hop, samba and many other music and dance styles. If you have never seen Yosakoi before, you can expect an energetic dance with a traditional Japanese influence.

How do you learn Yosakoi?

In Japan, there are many Yosakoi teams, from university clubs to local community-based groups. Normally each team will create their own music, costumes and choreography. Anyone can join a team and usually no prior dance experience is required. Sometimes you can find three generations of the same family in one team!

Apart from the original dances created by each team, there are a number of Sō-odori which are dances that all teams can learn and perform together, usually at the end of a festival or a competition. At Yosakoi London we will be starting with learning some of these Sō-odori.

What does “Yosakoi” mean?

The name “Yosakoi” is often said to mean “come tonight”, and this is where the name most likely originates from. However, this usage is now outdated and people would not say “Yosakoi” to mean anything else than the type of the dance.

How long has Yosakoi been around?

The first Yosakoi festival took place in 1954 in Kōchi, Shikoku. It is said that originally the dance was very similar to Bon-odori but it has since evolved into the amalgam of styles that it is today.

The festival in Kōchi has two main rules:

  • Dancers must use naruko, which are clappers that were traditionally used to scare away birds from rice fields.
  • Each piece of music must have a musical phrase from the original Yosakoi Naruko Dance, a song written by Takemasa Eisaku combining aspects of three traditional songs: Yosakoi Bushi, Yocchore and Jinma-mo.

Watch a Sō-odori performed to the original Yosakoi Naruko Dance song:

As the popularity of Yosakoi grew, many other festivals appeared across Japan. In particular, the first such festival outside Kōchi was the Yosakoi Sōran Festival which was established in Sapporo, Hokkaido in 1992 and has become hugely popular. The main difference from the original Yosakoi Festival is that Yosakoi Sōran teams use the traditional folk song Sōran Bushi as a musical base.

A modern arrangement of Sōran Bushi is also used for another Sō-odori, one of the most commonly known Sō-odori throughout Japan: