In the middle of summer, people flock to Saitama's Sakado City for one of the biggest yosakoi festivals around.
Yosakoi is a type of dance festival in which teams from all over come to perform. Dressed in elaborate costumes and immaculately choreographed, the teams take to the streets to perform in a kind of high energy, musical parade. Some groups add flag bearers, taiko drummers, and elaborate props to their performances. At some of the largest yosakoi festivals (like this one, which has over 5,000 dancers), there is also a stage set up for each team to make a feature performance in hopes of being selected as the best. Yosakoi festivals began in 1954 in Kochi Prefecture.
The Sakado Yosakoi Festival, which was started in the year 2001 to mark the 25th anniversary of Sakado's achieving city status, is a very big event. It is held annually on the third Saturday and Sunday of August, with an "eve festival" also held on that Friday night. An estimated 250,000 people take to the streets to watch the festivities. The street route of the festival is very long, running along a series of streets essentially going from Sakado Station to Kita-Sakado Station. In the center of the two is the hub of the festival, centered around an enormous performance stage. Grab a seat here to watch the best of all the performers as they make their way through the festival.
The stage area is filled with what you would expect of a Japanese festival: lots and lots of food stands, games for the children, and some assorted local crafts and products for sale. The festival mascot also walks around, posing for pictures.
Unlike many other yosakoi festivals which end in the evening, Sakado Yosakoi goes until late at night. Trucks armed with huge spotlights roll in front of each dance team as they make their way down the dark streets, providing a unique atmosphere. The nighttime dancing is not to be missed.
It is easy to see that the Sakado Yosakoi Festival is important to this city of 100,000 people. Visitors would do well to take the opportunity to explore the many local shops, restaurants and bars in the area.
The Sakado Yosakoi Festival is free to attend. It is held along a long route of streets that run between Kita Sakado Station (Tobu Tojo Line) and Sakado Station (Tobu Tojo and Tobu Ogose Lines). The best way to access it is to choose either of those stations as a starting point, and simply follow the crowds.