Traditional Folk Dance from Japan's Northern Tohoku Region



At the beginning of 2008, Ensohza began work on Sansa Odori, with the goal of introducing it's first public performances of the vibrant, traditional, and rare Japanese festival dance, Sanbonyanagi Sansa Odori, here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Through the aid of a grant from the Alliance of California Traditional Artists, Ensohza began training with accomplished taiko performer and dancer Michelle Fujii. Michelle is a student of esteemed Japanese dancer Shohei Kikuchi and Japan's most respected school of folk dance, Warabi-za. With Michelle's guidance, we began laying the foundations of our Sansa performing group.

Later in the year, one of our members made the journey to Iwate, Japan, and met with Mr. Kiyomi Fujisawa, the leader of the Sanbonyanagi Sansa Odori preservation society, and was invited to attend one of their practice sessions. There, he was invited to take back what he learned to be incorporated by Ensohza.

In 2009, Ensohza made its public debut of this dance at the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival and recently performed it at the 2013 San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.




About Sansa Odori


Ensohza Minyoshu at SF Cherry Blossom '09


Sansa Odori is a festival dance that comes from the Iwate prefecture of Japan's largest island of Honshu. The most noticeably unique aspect of Sansa is that dancers, drummers and flute players all participate by dancing together in unison.

The origins of the dance and the festival are vague, but one legend has it that some time long ago a demon or ogre, called an Oni, terrorized the inhabitants Iwate.

The people prayed to the god Mitsuishi Daigongen for protection from the oni. Hearing their prayers, the god punished the oni and banished him to lands in the north. As a sign of the Oni's pledge, he was made to place his hand upon one of three stones. The handprint remained, giving birth to Iwate's name, which means "stone hand."

Following this victory, the people have celebrated every summer by participating in the Sansa Odori.


Sanbonyanagi Sansa Odori

Sanbonyanagi Sansa Odori is a specific style of Sansa maintained by a preservation society , or hozonkai (ho-zone-kai). This group, lead by Kiyomi Fujisawa, performs this version of the dance at religious dedications, festivals and on stage as well as during the Morioka Sansa Festival. The group meets weekly to rehearse year-round in the small building they constructed on a farm road on the outskirts of Morioka City, the capital of Iwate.

Sanbonyanagi Sansa Odori gets its name from the village of its origin, Sanbonyanagi (sahn-bone-yah-nah-gee), which means "three willows". It is a very dynamic style danced to a powerful drum beat and lively song of flutes, where all participants step, leap and turn in unison, regardless of whether they are dancing, playing the large drums strapped to their chests, or playing a melody on the flute.



Sansa Odori uses a type of drum called an Okedo (oh-kay-doh) or Oke-Daiko, meaning "bucket drum." This relatively lightweight drum is made of a wooden stave-constructed body. The drum heads are generally made from cow hide sewn tightly onto a metal ring. The two drum heads are laced to each other, sandwiching the drum body between them, with the tension of the rope holding the drum together.

The Okedo is worn strapped to the drummer chest with the drum heads facing to the sides. It is played by striking the heads with wooden sticks called bachi (bah-chee).



The flutes used in the Sansa Odori are called Shinobue (she-no-boo-eh), or simply fue (foo-eh). Fue are transverse flutes made from bamboo and are found in every region and festival in Japan. They are available in many sizes and styles. The flutes used are traditionally not tuned to a western scale, giving them a truly Japanese festival sound.

The flute's pitch is determined by its length – the larger the flute, the lower the pitch.



Stage performance by the Sanbonyanagi Sansa Odori Hozonkai in Japan



Sanbonyanagi dancers, drummers and flute players wear the same baisc costume consisting of a yukata, or summer kimono, with several colorful strips of cloth tied around the waist. The yukata is tucked up slightly, giving the legs more freedom of movement, while the arms and the backs of the hands are covered by a cloth wrapping called tekko.

Underneath the yukata, thin white pants called momohiki are worn with dark color leggings called kyahan tied around the shins. Traditionally, a split toed sock called tabi are worn with straw sandals called waraji.

The hat is a large flat bowl shape made from straw. The dancers wear flowers or paper flowers on the hats. The flower covered hats are called hanagasa or "flower hats."



There is one lead dancer called the Ippachi (eep-pah-chee) whose costume stands apart from the rest. This is based on a traditional comic figure called Hyotoko (hyoh-toh-koh). This dancer serves to help communicate instructions from the leader of the dancing, which is actually one of the drummers called the Ichiban-Daiko (ee-chee-bahn-die-koh) and also dances solo during special slow parts of the songs.