The Kanto Matsuri, (“pole lantern festival”) is a Tanabata related celebration in Akita City, held every year from August 3 to 6 in in hope for a good harvest. Around two hundred bamboo poles five to twelve metres long, bearing twenty-four or forty-six lanterns, topped with gohei, and weighing up to fifty kilograms, are carried through the streets by night on the palms, foreheads, shoulders, or lower backs of the celebrants. It is one of the main festivals in Tohoku, along with the Tanabata festival in Sendai, the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri festival, and the Hanagasa Matsuri festival in Yamagata. The Kanto Matsuri festival was designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property in 1980.
This festival originated from Neburi Nagashi which was held for ridding illness and maliciousness in summer. It already existed in the Horeki Period (1751–1764), in the middle of Edo era. Yuki no huru michi (The road where it snows)” written by Soan Tsumura in 1789 is regarded as the oldest document which described Neburi Nagashi. It describes that Neburi Nagashi was held on July 6 of the lunar calendar and introduced as the original tradition of Akita. Also, Neburi Nagashi was an annual event to pray for good harvests and artistic progress.Read More
In the Neburi Nagashi around Akita city, people decorated silk trees and bamboo grasses with strips of paper on which they had written their wishes. Then, they walked around the city with them and floated them downstream. In Neburi Nagashi, people combined candles and lanterns. This instrument for Neburi Nagashi became called Kanto.
Since the lunar calendar changed to the solar calendar in 1872, the Kanto festival was compelled to be held one month earlier. However, the number of Kanto, which had been 50 in 1900, had dramatically decreased due to changes of festival’s schedule and its site. The numbers of Kanto which participated in the Kanto festival in 1905 were only 4 or 5 and this situation made the future of the festival uncertain. Emperor Taisho visited Akita and appreciated Kanto performance in 1908.
These two events helped the restoration of Kanto festival. Then, the festival’s schedule changed to the lunar calendar again to avoid the rainy season and the number of visitors increased. In 1931, the Kanto Society, which managed the Kanto Skill Festival (Myogikai), was founded. Although Kanto festival was canceled between 1938 and 1946 due to the Second World War, it resumed after the war. The Kanto Festival Executive Committee was established in 1966.
Celebration, skills and contest:Read
The Kanto Matsuri , (“pole lantern festival”) is a Tanabata related celebration in Akita City, held every year from August 3 to 6. The highlight of the festival is an impressive display of skill in which performers balance kanto (long bamboo poles) with arrays of paper lanterns attached to the end.The kanto poles come in different sizes with the largest measuring 12 meters, weighing 50 kilograms and carrying as many as 46 paper lanterns, lit by real candles.
The main event of the festival, the Night Parades, are held nightly along Chuo Dori street in the center of the city. The various performing groups, carrying nearly 250 kanto poles, line up on the street, and when a signal is given, the poles are all raised up at once and the performers show off their skills. The performing area of Chuo Dori is nearly one kilometer long and there are plenty of places to sit on the sidewalk along the route. The ends of the closed off road offer a particularly spectacular view.
The techniques of Kanto are collectively called “Myogi”. There are 5 categories of Myogi; Nagashi, Hirate (hand), Koshi (hip), Kata (shoulder) and Hitai (forehead). Performing groups, each consisting of 5 members, show these 5 techniques, one at time.The contest to compete with techniques of Kanto is called Myogikai or the daytime Kanto. The aim of Myogikai is “improving the skill of the Kanto as a whole by showing the Society members’ skills to public and studying each other’s skill.”