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Shall We Dance?


Shy, conservative, well-mannered, always respectful and rather introverted; these are the usual words many people associate with the Japanese. This is particularly true for Nagoya, which is generally equated to the shy kid in the back of the class. It's not as big and boisterous as the other major cities in Japan, namely Tokyo and Osaka. It doesn't have as many sightseeing spots as Kyoto, and its generally regarded as the odd one out when compared to the above mentioned cities, yet Nagoya has a culture all its own and is becoming quite well known for hosting some of the biggest festivals in Japan, such as the World Cosplay Summit, or the Domanaka Matsuri, which just happens to be the biggest Dance Festival / Competition of its kind in Japan.  


Hosted in Nagoya yearly, this unique festival, which started in 1999, was originally the brainchild of several college students who wanted to communicate the excitement of the dance scene in Nagoya to the rest of the world.  It was a huge hit and as of this year, had about 210 dance teams with about 23,000 performers from within and also from outside of Japan.  This Festival is viewed by about 1.85million people - and that number is growing every year.  


The rules of the festival are quite simple, yet provide a lot of room for creativity:

  • Each dancer in a team must hold a Naruko, or clapper,


  • A melody from a local folk tune of the participants' hometown must be incorporated into the music.  

That's it!  Otherwise the teams have completely free reign with their artistic creativity! The result of this artistic freedom are some truly unique and passionate dance routines as each team competes to out-dance one another in a friendly competition of skill, stamina, and originality. 


During my second trip to Japan about 8 years ago, I was quite surprised by the antics on display at the Domanaka Matsuri, and have enjoyed attending the festivities pretty much every year since.  I can recommend this festival to anyone who happens to be in the Nagoya area at the time.  It's always a pleasure to watch and get caught up in the energy and fervor of the dancers. 


You can check out more pictures from the festival on my Facebook Page

But the official teams weren't the only ones dancing that day.  Taking their style tips from the rockabilly days coupled with equally expressive dance moves, these guys (most people call them rockabilly guys) put on quite a show as well.  They 're actually a staple of the fun and interesting characters inhabiting Nagoya and it was nice to see them representing at the festival as well - even if it was unofficially. 


So whoever still thinks that Japanese people are shy, introverted, and not good at dancing, think again - or better yet, come to the next Domanaka Matsuri to be part of the festivities and see for yourself.  Be careful though, you might just get swept up in the truly infectiously energetic atmosphere.  

Achim Runnebaum
Freelance Photographer, Writer, and Journalist. Achim was born in Germany, raised in the States, and is currently living in Japan. Read more ยป