For three days in August, the little island of Sado in Japan reverberates with the sounds of taiko drums, song and dance. Welcome to Earth Celebration, where the beats seem to rise through the soles of your feet!
Hosted by the globetrotting taiko drum group Kodo, for 32 years this huge drum festival has brought music lovers from across Japan and the world to butterfly-shaped Sado Island, just an hour or so by ferry from nearby Niigata City. Japan’s longest running music festival, the chance to hear the “children of the drum”—one of the meanings of Kodo—play their huge taiko up close and personal and brings back repeat visitors again and again.
For Kodo members, taiko is a way of life. Those talented and tough enough to pass through the two-year apprenticeship program and trial period can expect to spend two thirds of the year touring, performing in sold-out concerts and workshops both in Japan and overseas. The rest of the time they live on Sado, practicing and developing new works to stun audiences and show just how powerful these deceptively simple looking drums can be.
While their famously spartan training regime has loosened up with time, the tradition remains for younger members to live together in dormitory-style accommodations at Kodo Village. Their dedication to their craft comes through in each performance, coaxing nuances for massive drums that sometimes reach over one meter in diameter.
But Earth Celebration goes beyond taiko, as each year the group invites musicians from around the world to perform at the Harbour Market stage, bringing together artists and festivalgoers alike through the power of music. For the 2019 edition, which runs from August 16th to 18th, the Kodo drummers will be collaborating with the acclaimed Korean percussion ensemble Kim Duk-Soo SamulNori.
Besides music, visitors can also enjoy light up events at the former Sado Gold Mine, watch movies at the outdoor Hello Japan Sea Cinema, sample tasty food at Harbour Market, and catch fringe events at Kisaki Shrine.
If you plan to check out this music festival, try to arrive one day early to catch a firelight performance of Noh theater on one of the island’s ancient open-air stages. The plays harken back to the Japan of yore, the performer’s carved masks and otherworldly chants made even more dramatic by the flickering lanterns.
Kids are welcome at most of the events, and there are plenty of workshops and other activities to do on Sado to teach and entertain young music lovers.
Heading to Japan and want to know more about how to get to Sado or book tickets for Earth Celebration? The festival website has all the information you need to plan your trip!