Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Akita Kanto Matsuri Festival

On 6th August hubby and I went to see Akita Kanto Matsuri Festival. Kanto Matsuri is a pole lantern festival that is held in Akita City every year from 3rd to 6th August. It is one of the top three summer festivals of Tohoku region along with Nebuta of Aomori and Tanabata of Sendai. Kanto Matsuri dates back to the middle of the 18th century. It originated from the combination of ceremonies that included prayers for good grain harvests as well as the protection of physical health of people by purifying the body of evil spirits. The festival has been designated as an important intangible folk cultural property, and every year about 1.1 million people watch and enjoy the performances of lanterns lit in the shape of ears of rice. A Kanto consists of many candle-lit paper lanterns suspended from a bamboo frame that is topped with a gohei, and symbolizes the golden ears of rice. Kanto poles are of different sizes with the largest measuring 12 meters, weighing 50 kilograms, and having 46 papers lanterns. There are three other kinds of smaller Kanto poles measuring 9, 7, and 5 meters in length, weighing 30, 15, and 5 kilograms, and having 46, 24, and 24 paper lanterns, respectively. People enjoy seeing the highly skilled performers balance the Kanto without gripping the poles on the palms of their hands, foreheads, shoulders, or lower backs.

We reached Akita City at about 11 am and parked our car at a parking area located near Akita Railway Station. The festival has many daytime events and we went to see a competition event named Akita Kanto Matsuri Myogi Taikai held in Senshu Park next to Hirano Masakichi Museum. The park is located about 800 meters northwest of Akita Railway Station and it took us 10 minutes to walk up to the museum. The event is free to attend but seats are not provided, and spectators have to watch the performances standing or sitting around the event area. In this event, group and individual participants compete to be the best Kanto technician of the year. It was nice to see a few of the team performers gracefully balance the Kanto pole on their palms, foreheads, shoulders, and lower backs. The performance is set to the music of taiko drums and flutes. A few times the bamboo pole of the Kanto broke to the amusement of the spectators. It was a very hot and shiny day, so we left the competition site after watching only a few performances. But it was really fun. I took several photos of the event and compiled two videos of the performances.
A group of participants waiting to perform at Akita Kanto Matsuri Myogi Taikai event

Another group of participants waiting for their turn

Balancing the Kanto pole during the performance

Balancing the Kanto pole

A performer showing off his skills

Another performer showing off his skills

A compiled video of one of the performance at Akita Kanto Matsuri Myogi Taikai

A compiled video of another performance

Later we watched an English movie at a movie theater named Lumiere Akita located near Akita Railway Station. By the time the movie got over, it was time to go and see the Night Parade, which is the main event of Kanto Matsuri. The Night Parades are held along Kanto Avenue of Sanno Odori Road located about a 20 minute walk west of Akita Station. At 6.15 pm, the straight 800-meter long Kanto Avenue was closed to the traffic in order to prepare for the event. Earlier in the day, we had bought tickets worth 2000 Yen per person for reservation of seats set up on the median of the road. The seats are usually reserved a few months in advance and we were really fortunate to get seats on the day of the festival itself.

At about 6.30 pm, various famous groups related to sports, music bands, and animation world paraded along the road. It was fun to see a person riding Velotaxi cycle rickshaw, a music band, a local professional basketball team named Akita Northern Happinets, two persons dressed in Darth Vader costume, the official mascot character of Akita prefecture Sugichi-kun, and several other local groups represented in the parade along Kanto Avenue.
Velotaxi cycle rickshaw

A music band

Akita Northern Happinets Basketball Team

Two persons dressed in Darth Vader costume


At about 6.55 pm, the Night Parade, the main event of the festival began and various performing groups carrying Kanto poles started entering Kanto Avenue and paraded along the road accompanied with taiko drum-beating performances and the playing of bamboo flutes. There were 230 Kanto poles of various sizes and the number of individual candle-lit lanterns of the Kantos reached around 10000. About 3000 people that included skilled performers supporting these Kanto lights slowly started lining up along the road. This created a spectacular sight as we were surrounded by a sea of candle-lit lanterns. We took a few photos and also compiled a video of taiko drum-beating and flute playing during the Night Parade.
Taiko drum-beating performance during the Night Parade

Performers carrying Kanto poles with hanging candle-lit lanterns lined up along the road

A compiled video of taiko drum-beating and flute playing during the Night Parade

At about 7.30 pm, when a signal was given, the 230 Kanto poles with hanging paper lanterns were all raised up at once and the performers showed off their skills. To the sound of taiko drums and flutes, and cheered on by the traditional shouts of ‘dokkoisho dokkoisho’, each Kanto pole was hoisted up by a single performer who balanced the pole on the palms of his hands, and raised it higher and higher. Next, the performer shifted and balanced the Kanto on his forehead, shoulder, and lower back. The performers changed every few minutes and continued the impressive display of their skills. We were really thrilled by the performance. The Kanto poles with hanging candle-lit paper lanterns looked stunning and mystic. Sometimes a performer lost his balance due to windy conditions, and the pole and lanterns came crashing down on power lines and on the crowd. The falling Kanto seemed a bit scary but nothing serious usually happens as the candle-lit lanterns are flamed out. The lanterns are relit and raised again. We loved the views around us and took many photos of raised individual Kanto, a few Kantos together, and the performers clad in traditional happi-coat holding the Kanto poles. From the median of the road, we took photos of many Kantos being paraded along one-way as well as both-ways of the road. I also compiled two videos of the Night Parade of Kanto Matsuri performance.

Photos of raised individual Kanto pole with hanging candle-lit lanterns and a performer

Photos of a few Kantos together and the skilled performers

A performer balancing the Kanto pole on his right shoulder

Close-up view of the candle-lit lanterns hanging on the Kanto poles

Night Parade of the brightly lit Kantos along one-way of the road

Night Parade of the Kantos along another part of the one-way of the road

Parade of the Kantos at yet another place on the road

Hubby and the Kanto poles

A Kanto and its lanterns came crashing down on the crowd sitting in front of us

Night Parade of the Kantos along both-ways of the road as viewed from the median of the road

Night Parade of Kanto Matsuri and the spectators along the median of the road

Me, crowd, and the Kantos

A compiled video of the Night Parade of the Kantos during the festival

Another compiled video of the Night Parade of Kanto Matsuri

At about 8.35 pm, the Night Parade Kanto Matsuri performance came to an end. Spectators were then allowed to take photos along with the performers and the Kanto poles for about 15 minutes. We left the festival site at 8.45 pm. We really enjoyed Kanto Matsuri festival.


Deguide said...

Nice coverage of Kanto Matsuri festival Akita

Carole Rae said...

I'm a little jealous! It seems like it was a lot of fun! =) Beautiful pictures...of course.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks Deguide for your comment.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks Carole for your comment. Yeah, we had fun...Hope you enjoyed the videos of Kanto Matsuri festival.