Performers prepare to dedicate their dance to a temple before the Awa Odori festival in Tokushima on August 12, 2017. The four-day dance festival attracts more than 1.2 million people annually. AFP PHOTO

TOKUSHIMA: Over a million performers and spectators will flock to a western Japanese city this weekend for one of the country’s largest dance festivals, after organisers stepped up efforts to accommodate foreign visitors.

The annual “Awa Odori“, which originates from a Japanese Buddhist custom of honouring the spirits of ancestors, sees the otherwise sleepy city of Tokushima turn into a stage for four days.

Groups of dancers and musicians, known as “ren“, parade through the streets to the sound of traditional music instruments such as lutes, drums, flutes and bells.

Sporting Japanese kimono costumes with hair bands or straw hats, they chant in chorus and dance in synchronised choreography.

The number of participants, including performers, is expected to hit the same number as last year, when 1.2 million took part in the centuries-old carnival.

“You need practice when you do other Japanese traditional performing arts, but anyone can enjoy Awa Odori... only by raising hands and taking steps to the rhythm,” said 32-year-old dancer Masayuki Tatekawa.

Kenji Kitamura, an organiser, added: “This is a dance festival welcoming everybody as they can watch, sing, dance.

“This year we are especially putting the emphasis on foreign visitors as the number of tourists from other countries to Japan is increasing.”

He added that this year there would be English signs and temporary western-style toilets.

The country has launched a “Visit Japan” campaign ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the government said last month that travellers to Japan from other countries had jumped 17.4 percent to a record 13.8 million for the first half of 2017. - AFP

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