When you think of Japan’s summer, you think “festivals.” Vibrant and colorful yukata-clad festival goers, food stalls, fireworks, traditional “bon” dances – there are so many events where you can experience Japanese traditional culture. There’s a festival I’d like to recommend in particular – the Morioka Sansa Odori taiko drum festival held in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture.

The festival was held at its normal scale for the first time in four years in 2023. Over four days on August 1 to 4, 1,138,000 people visited the city to see the dancing festival.

The Morioka Sansa Odori is the largest taiko drum festival in Japan, and is held at the beginning of August every year in Morioka City. It has even received the Guiness World record for the largest performance of traditional Japanese drums (3,437 people). Each taiko drum has a circumference of 50 cm, and is about 7kg. These taiko, along with the many people in gorgeous yukata dancing, come together to make an impactful sight. The festival is made up of more than taiko players – there are dancers and people playing the flute throughout the parade procession in town, all coming together in a beautiful harmony. This festival tradition has been passed down since the Edo period of Japan’s history, and is beloved as a dance that prays for happiness.

If you listen closely to the parade, you’ll hear people calling out a phrase that sounds like, “Sakkora Choiwayasse!” This means literally, “I call happiness to me!” There are many other phrases you use during Sansa, and they tend to not be intelligible unless you’re originally from the area, but if you hear a phrase you like, try calling it out yourself in time with the dance.

Also regarding Sansa Odori – anyone can participate on the day of the parade. One way is to practice a little bit right before the parade starts and join in with the Oherense Group that marches in the parade. This year’s application period is from 6/17-7/22. (You can borrow a hanten robe to put over your clothing, so you don’t need a yukata to participate! However, registration closes once they reach a certain amount of people so go sooner rather than later). https://sansaodori.jp/join/oherense_shudan.php
Another way to join is to participate in the Wa-Odori dance that takes place at the end of the parade. The Wa-Odori consists of circles of dancers throughout the city that play the taiko and flute as they dance. Anyone can join in this dance, so you can have fun and join in along as well.

The song of summer. Morioka Sansa Odori. We hope you all come to Morioka to experience this festival some day.
When you arrive, be sure to visit the Mitsuishi Shrine which serves as the origin point to the legend of Sansa, as it’s known for its rocks with the handprint of an ogre. Don’t forget to eat some Wanko Soba noodles, Jajamen noodles, and Morioka reimen noodles before you go.