It’s Halloween and from tomorrow everything will become Christmas-themed so I had better re-live the last of my summer. I was back in Japan at the beginning of August and had several weeks of summer vacation when I could take time off, so very last-minute, my friends and I organised a trip to the Earth Celebration on Sado Island, off the coast of Niigata, north of Ishikawa. The island has a historical reputation of remoteness and in the past, important people who fell out of favour, like emperors and monks were exiled here. It still feels very remote and rural, but the island’s population increases enormously for the festival weekend. The island is home to the famous taiko drumming group called Kodo, who practice here when they are not touring the world. The three-day festival consists of nightly concerts with both the Kodo group and international percussionists, daily workshops and fringe performances as well as a market. For that weekend the island becomes a hippie commune.
We took the train to Naoetsu in Niigata then took the beautifully modern ferry Akane to the island. Later we got to try out one of the traditional attractions of the island, taraibune, or tub boats, that are shallow barrels rowed by wiggling a single oar. They are rowed by older ladies dressed in traditional clothes around the harbour as a tourist attraction, though they used to be used for collecting seaweed and shellfish. There’s a special technique to the rowing that none of us could get the hang of when we tried. We relied on the shuttle buses to get around, which were fine until the day after the festival when they stopped and we were so lucky that a person at our campsite had ordered a taxi that was a minibus so that we could get in it too. We were not so lucky later at the port in Naoetsu when the last bus to the train station left before the arrival of the ferry. We waited at a taxi rank with other people who had seemingly already ordered taxis and one of them was kind enough to give a telephone number for a taxi company, but when we rang up to request a taxi, the man just laughed. So we had to walk for a long 20 minutes carrying all of our tents and belongings. If you can, I highly recommend going with your own transportation!
The festival was great, and so are Japanese hippies. They are more chilled and easy-going than their fellow countrymen in general, but still so organised, clean and tidy. There were many regular folks there too and it was nice to wander around the market, that had a great selection of international foods, and catch some impromptu performances.
The concert organisation was very Japanese with everyone bringing picnic mats and setting up respectfully beside each other. Most people stayed seated for the concerts, but at the sides there were standing areas where you could go to dance, but the performances had so much going on visually that it was amazing to watch these drummers banging away with all their might. When the concerts were done, there were some after-events with some traditional music and dance. One night there was dance along the street (similar, but on a smaller scale to the Hyakumangoku dance) where you could join in and pick up the steps while being accompanied by traditional music played on drums and flutes. On the last night in the market, there was another dance, this time taught by a beautiful lady with feathers in her hair, to the sound of a very haunting song.