Tokushima, A Case of Mistaken Identity

Some of the puppets at Tokushima’s puppet museum.

Sometimes, all the travel planning in the world leads to surprises. For example, when I planned our Japan itinerary, I thought Tokushima on the island of Shokoku was going to be a small town and our accommodation there would in a small wooded village. Wrong.

Stock photo from Wikitravel site

Tokushima is a not-very-interesting city almost the size of Oakland. But not as interesting. And our accommodation was not in a wooded village — more of a nameless, faceless neighborhood with no trees to speak of. At first, I was kind of disappointed….

But our experience in Tokushima is evidence that you can find cool stuff in places you don’t expect.  First, we attended a performance of Tokushima’s Awa Odori, a 500 year-old dance to the music of drums, flutes and stringed instruments. The dance is the centerpiece of an annual festival that the city hosts every August.











We also saw a performance of part of a puppet play that has been performed for more than 500 years. The play is so long, it is never performed all at once. We saw the most beloved act, which portrays the painful reunion of a mother with her young daughter. The puppetry is called Awa Jurobe Yashiki. Each puppet requires three skilled puppeteers to operate the intricately engineered limbs and head. At the museum, we also learned a little about how the puppets are made and the regional history of puppetry.

The mom puppet reminded me of my own mom

Tokushima is also well-known for indigo dying, a tradition that is more than 1000 years old. Indigo made the region rich because it was treasured by the Samurai for its beauty and anti-bacterial properties — afterall, you want clothes that help you be handsome and not funky when you are out warrioring.  We attended a public market where we got to make our own indigo-dyed scarves using one of Japan’s best-known dying techniques, “shibori.” Shibori involves tying, knotting, and folding to create patterns. It’s the original tie-dye.

My shibori indigo-dyed scarf. Growing indigo is difficult and the process of dying with indigo is complex. If your jeans are indigo-dyed, you probably can’t afford a second pair.

On our last day Tokushima, we walked 12 miles to five temples along the outskirts of town. The island of Shikoku has spectacular natural beauty and wonderful temples. After a long day of hiking, we ate a lot of noodles and planned our path north to Kyoto.

So the next time you accidentally end up in Fresno, be assured you will find cool things to do. Arigato gozaimasu, Tokushima!


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