Imagine a Japanese island filled with traveling Japanese hippies, a handful of foreigners, foreign culture and food, and the best taiko group in the world. Sounds awesome right? This place is called Sado island and it happens every year during the Sado Island Earth Festival in late August. Sado Island is off the coast of Niigata prefecture in the Sea of Japan.
Sado Island is home to the World famous Japanese taiko group Kodo. They are the hosts of this festival and they play ticketed evening concerts with special musical guests every night of the weekend long festival. The festival also has a world fair market, food, and ticketed workshops.
Despite is unfortunate name in Japanese Katakana, アース・セレブレーション (pronounced Aas serebureshyon, yes sounds like “ass”), it is a great time for anyone of any age! You’d think this would be a super famous event, but actually, Niigata is not a famous place and neither is Sado Island. It’s much like my home base of Fukui, beautiful empty countryside with not much for tourists to do.
I, However, have become very used to traveling to and from Niigata prefecture since moving to Japan because it is where the ALT basketball tournament is held twice a year. I have made many friends with the ALTs who live in Niigata and they have been telling me for the last few years about how great the Sado Island Earth Celebration is. Every year there are a few groups of Fukui-ken ALTs who make the trip up there and this year it would finally be my turn! (here is a video promoting the festival to foreigners, my friends from fukui are interviewed from the 2013 festival!)
While I was planning to attend the concert festival, I realized that the first day of the festival was on the same day as our Fukui prefecture welcome party for the new ALTs. My group and I decided that we could handle doing both! We would go to the party have fun, go home early, and wake up early to drive to the festival for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
What a stupid plan.
How was our group supposed to know THIS particular welcome party would be the welcome party that ended all parties How were we supposed to know that for me the party wouldn’t end until 3:30 am and for others at 5:00am? How were we supposed to know almost EVERYONE in Fukui would turn up?
Going to bed at 3:30 and waking up at 5:30 for a 5 hour road trip is a stupid stupid stupid plan. ESPECIALLY if after your 5 hour road trip you have a 2 hour ferry ride. Stupid me.
no sleep + intense hangover + 5 hr car ride + 2 hr ferry ride = a disaster.
Luckily one person in our travel group did not attend the party of doom. He single handedly held our group together until we arrived on Sado Island. Without Tom we surely would not have woken up on time, been able to drive any vehicles, or function in general. We affectionately called him “dad” for the rest of the trip. Thanks Dad for being responsible.
Camping on Sado Island
When we planned our trip we went with the cheapest most hippy accommodations possible. We wanted to stay in the spirit of the festival of course! So we decided to bring our own tents and camp on the beach. I would highly suggest this! The campground at the beach had everything you needed, beaches, open space, clean showers and toilets, helpful staff, and other festival goers.
It was a GREAT atmosphere. When we first pulled up and got out of the car to pay for the space at the campground there was a band of festival goers sitting on the beach just jamming away. It felt like we had gone through a wormhole and arrived in the Caribbean. We kept looking at each other and asking, “Are we still in Japan? Is this some trippy dream?”
From One Inaka to Another.
The island is SUPER SUPER inaka. So transportation was something we had to think about. Even though the camp ground had a bus service to and from the festival grounds we decided to bring our car with us onto the island. It was expensive to buy the ferry tickets but between the 5 of us splitting the price of the car it was worth it to have a little more freedom to explore.
We found a beautiful temple on our way to the concert site and stopped to explore take random pictures. It looked super abandoned but obviously someone took some kind of care of it. it was a huge complex and gave us a good few hours of adventure time.
Is this really still Japan?
We really felt like this island was a weird international hybrid country. While it was still full of Japanese people it wasn’t as out there as it would have been if it took place in another country.
Here is one example of what I mean. Its called the, “Earth Celebration,” right? Its full of young hippy people who love tribal drum music, right? There should be copious amounts of drugs/drug paraphernalia, right? wrong. While there was the odd high person and a few things being sold with pot leaves on them. It was mostly drug free and family friendly.
In the end it’s still Japan just an alternate universe one, where you can buy tacos and thai food from the same food stall selling takoyaki and yakisoba.
I would recommend this festival to anyone. I had a great time in Niigata. The island is gorgeous and the music was wonderful, fun, and entertaining.
If you ever go make sure to dress like a hippy. There wasn’t a single person there who wasn’t wearing parachute pants and a scarf around their head. Seriously. Also, don’t travel with a hangover. Lesson learned.