Akita Kanto Matsuri (festival), held every year from August 3rd to 6th in Akita city, Akita Prefecture, is a traditional festival that has been going on since the Edo period and is one of the three big festivals of the Tohoku region along with Nebuta Matsuri of Aomori and Sendai Tanabata Matsuri of Miyagi.
The origin of this festival goes back to the ceremony of Neburi Nagashi from the Horyaku Period (1751-63) for good harvest and purification of the soul. This ritual itself wasn’t popular but in the Edo period, the name of this custom was changed to Kanto and this may have contributed to its current popularity.
Kanto (竿燈) refers to a bamboo pole assembled to hang lanterns said to resemble an ear of rice. At this festival, the kanto and lanterns are thought of as grains of rice on a stalk and by carrying these, people pray for a good harvest. Each pole has 46 paper lanterns that are lit using candles and the total structure can weigh as much as 60 kg.
The best part of being at the Kanto Matsuri is the Yoru-Kanto (night kanto). There is a moment of silence and everyone waits with baited breath to see the kanto rise up in the air.
Over 270 kanto are lit with over 10,000 lanterns that brighten up the city streets with their light. The lanterns have unique Japanese motifs as well as names of sponsors.
At the Nebuta Matsuri, the energizing chant is Rassera, Rassera while at the Kanto Matsuri, you hear:
Like any other Japanese festival, there is the vibrating sound of taiko (drums) for accompaniment.
Each kanto has a gohei, similar to a shide, on the top that shows the direction of the wind.
Because the kanto are so heavy, you will occasionally see them tumble but the participants are quick to respond; before you know it, the candles are lit, burnt lanterns replaced and the kanto hoisted back up.
At the end, there is an event called “Fureai Kanto” (interactive kanto), where you can hold an actual small-sized kanto or take pictures with a big kanto.
During the day, you can watch a competition called Kanto Myogikai, a day-time kanto, where people compete with varying techniques to balance the kanto freely using their hands, foreheads, backs, and even mouths or chins.
Schedule and Location
Day Time (Hiru Kanto)
August 4-5: 9:00 – 15:40; August 6: 9:20 – 15:00
Myogikai / Area Nakaichi Nigiwai Hiroba, close to the Akita Museum of Art
Night time (Yoru Kanto)
August 3 – 6: 19:25 – 20:35
Along Chuo Dori (street), a 15-min walk from Akita Station
Reserved seating: 2100 yen – 2500 yen
(But we suggest you go free style and walk along the 1-km road to get the most out of this festival)
Official Website: http://www.kantou.gr.jp/index.htm
The Kanto Matsuri is synonymous with Akita Prefecture along with the Akita Shiba dog, so much so that you can even find it on manhole covers.
If you are visiting Japan in summer, keep these dates in mind and plan a trip to cover both the Kanto and the Nebuta Matsuri.