Morioka Sansa Odori Festival
Dance with the locals in the world’s largest taiko drumming party.
Northern Japan’s Morioka Sansa Odori is the largest taiko drum festival in the world. That’s a title assured by the Guinness World Records and the 230 groups — with over 10,000 competitive performers — who compete yearly to claim the title of best performance.
The festival is held in Morioka City, the capital of Iwate Prefecture, every Aug. 1-4. This northern Japanese region makes the most of its short summers with intense festivals. Combining an infectious energy with the drama of taiko performances and dancers, the festival invites tourists to learn the moves and join in.
The tale goes that a kami (god) punished an oni (ogre) for terrorizing the people. The oni was forced to leave the people alone. This promise was symbolized by stamping his hand on a rock at Mitsuishi Shrine, a rock which can be seen today. The locals rejoiced by dancing around the rock and this is thought to be the moment from which the Morioka Sansa Odori Festival was born. As Iwate literally means “rock hand,” it is also believed that this is where the prefecture’s name originates from.
How to dance at Morioka Sansa Odori
Morioka Sansa Odori is more than just watching a performance, it’s an invitation to join in. Head to Iwate-ken Kokaido Grand Hall (next to Iwate Prefectural Building (Map)) at 5 p.m., every day of the festival, for a 45-minute lesson in one of the local dance routines.
Once you’ve learned the moves, put them into action as part of the Ippan-sanka Sansa Group, a citizens dance group that takes part in the parade. If not, set up a tarp, grab some festival food, and watch the competitive taiko troupes from 6 p.m.
The teams, jumping non-stop through their dance routine, will stop at 8:30 p.m. With the official competition section over, Wa Odori begins. Each of the competing groups from earlier stands in a circle around their musicians, and begin the slow dance performed while walking in a circle.
As you learned this dance earlier, choose a group and jump in! But choose quickly, as the swirl of exhausted dancers, locals and tourists alike break apart by about 9:30 p.m.
Know before you go
From Aug. 1-4 yearly, each day has its own itinerary you can check out in the English Festival Guide. Accommodation books out months in advance so be sure to start looking early.