Akita Kanto Festival

 

The Lights of Evil Purification Wednesday, August 3, 2016 – Saturday, August 6, 2016

Countless lanterns are raised high, twinkling and shimmering in the darkness… the ethereal beauty of the scene is enough to make you sigh. The lanterns are hung from poles made of green bamboo up to 10 meters high and paraded through the streets while beating drums. This is the Kanto Festival, a famous summer event in Akita. The number of poles is about 260 and the number of lanterns reaches 10,000 in total. The shapes of the lanterns resemble ears of rice or rice bales, and they have been kept alive as an event to pray for a bountiful harvest, to ward off illnesses in midsummer, and to purge evil spirits. It is now designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset of Japan.

Two “Three Major Festivals”

The Aomori Nebuta Festival is the first of the three major festivals in the Tohoku region, held annually from August 3 to 6. Together with the famous Aomori Nebuta Festival and Sendai Tanabata Festival, they are famous as a summer tourist attraction. Tours that combine these three festivals in the Tohoku region are also very popular. Together with “Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival” in Fukushima Prefecture and “Owari Tsushima Tenno Festival” in Aichi Prefecture, they are counted as one of the three major lantern festivals in Japan.

Originally called “Neburi Nagashi”

The original event was called “Neburi Nagashi (Sleepy Nagashi)”, which is not just to ward off sleepiness, but to avoid falling asleep due to illness. It used to be a custom to actually float Tanabata decorations down the river, but it is said that it developed into its own unique form with the combination of green bamboo and lanterns as a series of two events, Tanabata and Bon festival. It is surprising that it has already been handed down as a rare custom of Akita in the oldest document of 230 years ago.

What exactly is a Kanto?

 

The height, weight and secrets of these lanterns

The smallest pole made of green bamboo is 5 meters high and the tallest is 10 meters high. The height is further increased by “splicing” the bamboo poles, and the sight of the poles growing larger and larger is a dynamic and moving sight to behold. The smallest “juyowaka” (youngest) has 24 lanterns, and the largest “oyowaka” has 46 lanterns hanging, weighing 50 kg! Each lantern has a waterproof coating and an air hole to prevent it from burning, and is decorated with auspicious symbols. If you want to take a closer look or test your strength a little! If you want to take a closer look or test your strength, go to the Agora Plaza at the west exit of Akita Station. There is a “hands-on corner” where you can actually hold up a Kanto lantern and take a commemorative photo. (Hours: 10:00-17:00, free of charge)

 

Marvel at the “skills” behind the Kanto lanterns!

The Kanto lanterns are lifted so easily that you don’t feel their weight, but that’s only because of the skills of the pole-holders who have been polishing their skills all year long. 70 groups from 38 towns form the “Kanto Association” and show off their various skills in front of the audience, dressed in matching hantō (traditional Japanese garments) with the same pattern as the lanterns, tenugui hachimaki (hand towel) and jikatabi (split-toed socks). The climax of the performance is the demonstration of various techniques in front of the audience. In addition to the five basic techniques (Nagashi, Hirate, Forehead, Shoulder, and Hips), the more experienced performers wear geta (high wooden clogs) or use a Japanese umbrella or fan. And not to forget the craftsmanship of the artisans who support the festival. Everything is handmade, from the lanterns, green bamboo, hanten, obi, and tenugui hand towels to the musicians. Here, too, Akita’s traditions and polished “skills” shine through.

 

Akita Kanto Festival Program

As an effort to preserve the skills of the Kanto lanterns, the “Kanto Myo Gijikai” is held at the same time, and this is the “Daytime Kanto”. This is a serious competition in which the techniques of each size of the lanterns are competed against each other in both team and individual competitions. The stability and accuracy of the performance is judged by the standard performance and free performance. On the other hand, the beauty of the “night Kanto” parade after dark, when the lanterns are lit, is exceptional. The performance is held three times in total, moving from one viewing spot to another in addition to the city’s main street called “Kanto Odori”. Afterwards, there will be a “Fureai Kanto” (Friendship Kanto), where commemorative photos and other exchanges will take place.

Hunchtime Kanto (Myogikai and others) 9:20-15:20

Night Kanto: around 18:30 – 21:00 (entrance and other times vary depending on the venue and seating)

Let’s get tickets

Because the festival is so popular, we recommend that you apply in advance for paid seats to see the night Kanto. Applications can be made in spring, directly to the Seat Reservation Center, or by phone, fax, or internet. Official guidebooks and commemorative goods (fans, T-shirts, etc.) are also available for purchase (reservations are accepted).

I want to visit more easily

It is possible to stand and watch from the roadside. However, please observe the rules such as traffic restrictions and prohibition of taking up space. And since it is expected to be very crowded, you may need to be creative by arriving at the venue well in advance of the event. There are many tour plans by travel agencies that incorporate seats and tour the “three major festivals” mentioned above, so you should make good use of them.

Don’t give up even if your schedule doesn’t allow it!

You can only go when it’s out of season! It’s so popular you can’t get a reservation! …

Here’s some great information for those who still want to see the Kanto lanterns. At the Neburi Nagashi Kan (official name: Akita City Folk Performing Arts Museum), which is dedicated to the preservation and transmission of local folk performing arts, you can see the actual Kanto up close. Demonstrations are also held only on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays from April to October.

Akita City Folk Performing Arts Museum http://akitacity.info/hotSpot/hotSpot.php?hotSpotId=10008

Opening hours: 9:30-16:30 (Kanto lantern demonstration from 13:30-14:10)