Sado is strongly influenced by the culture of the Hokuriku and West Japan. This is because in the past nobles and intellectuals were banished here from Kyoto and also because, after the western sea route was opened, the culture of West Japan and the Hokuriku arrived in Sado directly. Thereafter, broadly speaking, three cultures developed and took root in Sado each with strong links to a particular area : the aristocratic culture brought by exiles (Kuninaka district) , the samurai culture brought from Edo by Shogunate administrators and officials along with the development of the gold mines (Aikawa district) and the merchant-craftsmen's culture brought by merchants and sailors (Ogi district) . The unique culture of Sado, fostered by a harmonious mingling of these disparate elements, is rooted in a cultural soil completely different from that of the Echigo coast, on the Niigata Prefecture mainland. Sado's culture, arriving long ago from other parts of Japan to take hold and develop here, together with the climate and the island's natural features, have made Sado a microcosm of the whole of Japan.


Noh is such a deeply rooted tradition in Sado that there is a song about "the nightingale singing in a Noh theater even in this small village." Places where Noh has penetrated the daily life of ordinary people to the point where at one time farming families hummed Noh songs while working in the fields are rare in Japan. Noh's popularity here is due in part to the exile to Sado of Zeami, the playwright who brought Noh to its highest degree of perfection and also to the encouragement given to Noh plays by Nagayasu Okubo, the administrator of Iwami and the first shogunate administrator in Sado, who came from a family of Noh masters. Originally brought to Sado as the cultivated pastime of officials in the magistrate's office, Noh gradually developed as a Shinto ritual presented at Shinto shrines. The fact that most of the 30 and more Noh stages still extant (over 200 at one time) also serve as shrine halls or belong to shrines is ample evidence of this development. For example, the Four Noh Stages of Kuninaka, with their proud lineage, are all shrines : Daizen Shrine, Ushio Shrine, Kamo Shrine and Nyakuichiooji Shrine. Moreover Hidenobu, of the first generation of the Honma family, established the Hoshoza Noh Theater and as this school of Noh attracted followers from all over the island, Noh gradually came to permeate the lives of ordinary people. The Hoshoza Noh school presented plays in village shrines and became influential as the originator of Sado Noh as a folk entertainment after the middle of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Today the 18th generation of the Honma family, as the iemoto (founding family) of the Sado Hosho school, continues to preserve the school's traditions. You can enjoy the world of phantoms on Noh stages all over Sado from April, when the Noh Banquet (Utagenoh) marks the start of the Noh season, to October each year.

Kyogen (traditional short comic drama)

Kyogen of the Sagi school, which accompanied Kanze (Zeami) group in Edo period, still exists in Mano district. In contrast to the Izumi and the Okura schools whose traditions have been handed down, the Sagi school was thought to have died out after the Meiji Period (1868-1912) . However, in actual fact, it is still clinging to life in one corner of the island where it has become a valuable accessory to set off Sado's Noh plays. The Kyogen of the Sagi school has now been designated a cultural property of Niigata Prefecture.

Puppet Shows

Sado's puppet shows consists of three types of puppet : Sekkyo puppets (preachers of morality) , Noroma puppets (simpletons) and Bunya puppets (storytellers) . All have been designated important national intangible folk cultural assets. The origins of Sado's puppet shows go back 250 years to when Gorozaemon Suda of the Niibo district brought a group of dolls from Kyoto and founded a theater. At the beginning of the 20th century (end of Meiji period) there were a total of almost 30 Sekkyo and Bunya puppet theaters. However, with the rise of new entertainments such as naniwabushi (sung narrative) and moving pictures in the course of the 20th century (from Taisho period to Showa period) , puppet shows gradually went out of fashion. Nevertheless, it is only on Sado that Sekkyo and Bunya stanzas remain close in form to the stories of the founders of the genre, and recently conservation activities to ensure that this precious cultural asset is passed on have flourished. More than ten theaters and groups on the island currently continue to put on puppet shows. Many other traditional folk performances, in addition to Noh and puppet theater, are also an indispensable part of the annual calender of festivals and events. This is why Sado is known as a treasury of public entertainments.

Sekkyo Ningyo (puppets of preachers)

A type of puppet theater where the puppet is manipulated in time to accompanied singing by a single master with his hand inside the puppet. Sekkyo puppets, which take their name from the fact that Joruri ballad dramas were preaching plays, (joruri being the old name for bunraku puppet theater) appear in plays by Chikamatsu and battle plays as well as moral tales and have been passed down through the generations as a folk entertainment.

Noroma Ningyo (puppets of simpletons)

A deeply entrenched folk amusement passed on from days of old, these humorous Noroma puppets perform "Kyogen", the interlude between Sekkyo puppet plays to make spectators laugh. The show consists of an honest simpleton called Kinosuke as the main character, a rich man with a heart of gold, a coquettish female character, Ohana, and a greedy, cunning sculptor of images of Buddha.

Bunya Ningyo (puppets of storytellers)

In the latter half of the 19th century (in Meiji period) , Matsunosuke Osakiya of the Hamochi district and Tokiwa Ito, a Bunya storyteller from the Sawada district, arranged the Bunya stanza, which had been stories told on stage by blind people, into "talking," at the same time making the simple movements of the puppets more detailed and precise. These puppet shows are critically acclaimed. There is an artless naivety about the puppets themselves, but the performances in the style of old Joruri ballad dramas accompanied by mournful music are exquisitely graceful.

Traditional Folk Songs

Sado Okesa

The origins of Okesa can be traced to the harbor drinking songs of Kyushu known as Haiya stanza. In the course of being sung by sailors who landed in the Ogi district of Sado and in Izumozaki and Teradomari in Echigo on the mainland, they became Okesa songs. For this reason there are a lot of Okesa songs in Echigo too. The Haiya songs which arrived in Ogi were called Hanya and were transformed from songs sung indoors sitting on tatami to songs for Bon-odori (lantern festival dancing) . They came to be called Okesa later, when they were sung in places where ore was sorted in the gold mines. They acquired a much higher profile after 1924 when Bunzo Murata of the Tatsunami association took the lead in making these traditional Okesa songs known to a wider audience. Nowadays practically everyone has heard of these typical Japanese folk songs where elegant dancing is performed to mournful, melancholy music.

Aikawa Ondo (dance songs)

These songs were first sung when Edo culture arrived all at once in Sado in the Kanbun Period (1661-1673) with the rise in prosperity of the goldmines. Originally they took double suicides and love stories as their theme. In the early part of the 19th century, between about 1804-1844, the Genpei war stories sung for dances in front of the Shogunate administrator became popular as Aikawa Ondo which are still performed today. These Aikawa Ondo are famous for their "manly" quality with strongly modulated singing to accompany graceful dancing.

Ryotsu Jinku (Bon festival dance songs)

These are songs for Bon-odori (lantern Bon festival dancing) in Ryotsu, the origins of which are lost in the mists of time. Popular as particularly typical Sado folk songs, they have a distinctive melody and are said to be musically superior to Okesa. Because they are rather difficult, these folk songs are probably more for professionals.

Toyoda Ondo (dance songs)

This is another type of Bon-odori song passed down in the Toyoda area of Sado City from days of old. These Ondo are unusual in that the dancers perform with Jizo statues (guardian deity of children) from the Daikoji Temple precincts on their backs. Heavy ones weigh over 120 kilograms. This type of folk music is typical of Sado which is strongly tinged by Jizo faith.

Strolling Folk Arts

Onidaiko (Demon drums)

A classic public entertainment only found on Sado, each area of the island has its own individual style. A kind of lion dance similar to Tang dynasty sangaku (form of ancient Chinese entertainment similar to a circus) , the name comes from the way in which the demon dances to the soul-stirring beat of the drums as though possessed. On Sado this popular type of dancing is known as ondeko. The dances are performed at many festivals on the island and play an important role as Shinto ritual performances to drive out evil and pray for a fruitful year.

Shishi-mai (lion dances)

A type of ancient Shinto music and dancing where the performers wear the head of a lion. Today's shishi-mai are said to descend from two sources : Chinese (two dancers) from gigaku and bugaku (ancient court music and dancing) ; and Japanese (one dancer) from shishi, the general name for animals such as razorbacks and deer offered as a gift to the gods. On Sado, various forms of shishi-mai are performed as Shinto rituals in every district, from gigantic shishi containing 40 dancers, which developed from the two-dancer form, to baby shishi dances where the dancers wear the heads of deer.

Hanagasa-odori (floral hat dances)

This Shinto ritual entertainment handed down in Jyonokoshi, Akadama and Kitatanoura districts in Sado City was apparently learned from Kasuga Shrine in Nara. The dance is supposedly performed in worship of the god of the rice fields and acts out the scene of a bumper harvest. The dancers, boys aged 11 or 12, wear straw hats with red, yellow, blue, purple and white flowers, which is how the dance acquired its name. Shishi (lion) and demon dances are also part of the fun. This dance is of such antiquity that it may well be the model for demon drums and lion cub dancing. The hanagasa dances in Kuchihachimangu Shrine in Jyonokoshi district, which are performed on a particularly lavish scale, have been designated an intangible popular cultural asset of Niigata Prefecture.

Harugoma (spring foal)

This is a traditional entertainment without which New Year and other celebrations would not be the same, where dancers, accompanied by local songs, go from door to door astride the neck of a wooden horse. Traces of this custom are found all over Japan and congratulatory words beginning with"medetaya" (congratulations) have even been adopted by long epic songs and kabuki. On Sado the custom is called Harigoma and has a distinctively Sado flavor with the weird masks being apparently modelled on the face of the great owner of the gold mountains, Tajima Mikata, in the hope that some of his opulence would rub off.


This is ancient Shinto music and dancing performed at festivals at Hamochi Hongo, Sugawara Shrine and Kusakari Shrine in Sado City. Tsuburo apparently means phallus and sashi comes from sasu meaning "to insert," so by inserting a phallus a women will increase her progeny - a prayer for fruitfulness in other words, strongly redolent of primitive, local custom. The dance is performed in a playful way by three characters : a man holding the tsuburosashi, a woman wearing a fat-faced woman's mask and holding a little bamboo stick, and a hideous woman who covers her face with a hemp coif and shakes a tambourine-like instrument called Zenidaiko (money tambour) .

Chitochin-ton (ancient Shinto music)

An ancient Shinto music and dance tradition still maintained at Shirayama Shrine in the Shukunegi quarter of Sado City. The chitochin is the man and the ton is the woman. The festival is enlivened for everyone's enjoyment by stirring music and dancing where the woman provokes and excites the man.

Arts and Crafts

Mumyoi-yaki (Mumyoi ceramics)

Mumyoi is the name of the red soil containing ferrous oxide which comes out of the mine shafts in Sado's gold mines and mumyoi-yaki is the name of the pottery produced by mixing this soil with clay and baking the mixture at high temperatures till it is hard. Known throughout Japan as a type of ceramic unique to Sado it has many admirers. Mumyoi-yaki wares are extremely hard and make a clear sound when tapped. Their luster increases with use. During the Meiji Period in the latter half of the 19th century Jyozan Miura, Sekisui Ito and others created a movement oriented towards fine arts and crafts. At present twelve pottery workshops as well as the workshop of the living national treasure "Sekisui Ito" are to be found in the Aikawa district which is widely known as the home of Mumyoi ceramics.

Rogata chukin (Wax casting)

Normal casting involves pouring molten metal into a mold to obtain a shape identical to the space formed by the mold. In wax casting the mold is made out of wax. Techniques from three lineages have been handed down, mainly in Sawane, Sawada district, namely those lineages of Takusai Honma, Rando Miyata and Hangoro Shindo. Of these, Shodo Sasaki of the Rando lineage was recognized in 1960 as a "possessor of the technique of the important intangible cultural asset of wax casting" (living national treasure) . Sado's wax casting itself, a traditional art typical of Sado, was designated as one of Niigata Prefecture's intangible cultural assets of industrial art in 1978.

Hanga (Woodblock prints)

The painter of woodblock prints and eminent educationalist Shinichi Takahashi developed the Sado Hanga movement with the idea of turning Sado into an island famous for woodblock prints. Woodblock print groups were formed all over the island including the "Mountain Hanga Village" in the Mano district and the "Sea Hanga Village" in the Aikawa district. These groups fused together and in 1984 a museum specializing in woodblock prints, of which there are very few in Japan, the "Sado Hanga Village Art Museum" was inaugurated. The works displayed, so colorful and delicate that it is hard to believe that they are woodblock prints, have assured the museum an excellent reputation. Every year high school students from all over Japan gather for the "Nationwide High School Hanga Tournament," an event which is to junior woodblock print artists what the Koshien High School Baseball Championships are to junior baseball players.

Takezaiku (Bamboo crafts)

Sado has long been known for its bamboo groves and there are over 20 native species of bamboo and sasa (bamboo grass) on the island. Finely cut bamboo is woven artistically to make beautiful little accessories, handcrafts, document baskets (bunko-kago) and clothes boxes (midare-kago) , while exquisite baskets and strainers for daily use are noted as superior products of folk craft.

Sakiori (Rag weaving)

Sakiori was once popular for making sturdy working clothes. The material is woven from old bits of torn up cotton and the texture of old cloths and the beauty of their color combinations have recently been creating quite a boom in handmade sakiori bags and tablecloths.

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Sado Tourism Association 2F Ryotsu Port. Terminal Bldg. 353 Ryotsu-minato, Sado, Niigata, 952-0014 Japan
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