The Awa Odori dance festival begins in Tokushima on Aug. 12 and the popular “so-odori” dance is performed for the first time since its cancellation last year. (Video footage by Tsunetaka Sato and Yuki Sato)

TOKUSHIMA--The popular Awa Odori dance festival that draws more than 1 million spectators annually opened on Aug. 12 here under new management after the cancellation of the popular "so-odori" finale last year, which prompted dancers to revolt and hurt ticket sales.

Leading event management company Kyodo Tokyo Inc. was brought in this year to help resolve the dispute over the so-odori procession and put the four-day event back on its feet.

About 380,000 people reportedly attended the festival on the opening day of Aug. 12. About 1,500 Awa Odori dancers of 14 Yumeiren groups belonging to the association of Awa Odori promotion gathered at 10 p.m. at the Konya-Machi district dance venue. The festival continues through Aug. 15.

They performed their so-odori procession in which dancers line in rows and perform with perfectly coordinated teamwork. When musical instruments and dancers entered the venue following lanterns raised high in the night, spectators were put in a jubilant mood.

Kenta Okahisa, 38, a member of the Yumeiren group, said, “My heart was filled with happiness as I was able to see the smiles of the spectators.”

Muneki Hirata, 35, from Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, saw the dance festival for the first time.

“The enthusiasm and impact was tremendous,” he said. “It was great that everyone was dancing with joy.”

Festival-goers were treated to some changes this year, courtesy of Kyodo Tokyo, which deals annually with about 2,000 concerts and plays. A new wristband system allows spectators to visit several dance venues.

The Awa Odori dance festival's executive committee also took an innovative step such as setting up a “premium dance venue” where only the 14 Yumeiren groups belonging to the association of Awa Odori promotion perform.

The association also cooperated in the new operation, agreeing that the so-odori finale will be performed at four paid festival venues on a daily rotating basis, instead of exclusively at the Minami-Uchimachi district venue.

In Tokushima, there are seven Awa Odori dance venues with four paid venues and three free venues. The longest venue is 170 meters long.

The so-odori grand finale is said to have started in the late 1970s. It has traditionally been a popular eye-catching event for visitors, specifically at the Minami-Uchimachi district venue.

Last year, the so-odori at the Minami-Uchimachi district venue was canceled by the executive committee consisting of the municipal government and The Tokushima Shimbun.

The executive committee members said it was hurting ticket sales at the other dance venues, so they wanted to divide the dance groups evenly among the four venues in the city.

Instead, the Awa Odori dancers of the 14 Yumeiren groups who were kicked out of the Minami-Uchimachi district venue opposed the cancellation. They gave a free performance on a street in the city, much to the delight of pedestrians.

The dispute between the executive committee and the dancers hurt the image of the dance festival and attendance, resulting in a deficit of 29.5 million yen ($279,900).

With the approach of Typhoon No. 10, visitors can turn to official websites at https://www.awaodori.tokushima.jp/ (in Japanese) to see if the event will be held as scheduled as early as 11 a.m. each day.

(This article was written by Tsunetaka Sato and Yuki Sato.)