Kanto Festival in Akita
All pictures are offered by J.N who is a member of Kice.


Today's kanto consists of an array of many candle-lit lanterns mounted on a bamboo frame.
In early times, a children's ceremony, called "Neburi-nagashi," was held to sweep sleepiness away.
In summer, the climate is very hot and it is difficult to work enough to make a decent living, so it was much easier just to take a nap. However, people were afraid of catching sleeping sickness during this time of year. To eliminate drowsiness, the "Neburi-nagashi" event was held in Akita. When wax candles were introduced to Akita, people began to use candles for the event. Similar events having almost the same meaning have been held throughout Japan in many different ways. In the feudal era, the kanto folk event grew into a festival in Akita among the workmen, craftsmen, and merchants who lived near the castle of the local feudal lord. After the Meiji Restoration, the festival characteristics changed from a folk event to a big Kanto Festival, based on Shintoism and held mainly for tourists. The Kanto Festival is now widely known all over Japan and overseas as well as the representative event of summer festivals in Akita. In 1980, the Japanese government designated the Kanto Festival as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset of Japan. Because the essence of the kanto is the candlelight that causes most people to feel nostalgic, the kanto performance starts after sunset. Before sunset, on two of the four festival days, two events are held. One is the elegant Akita folk dance parade of 3,000 citizens, mostly women. The other is the hot contest among 16 Japanese drum groups in Akita. The drummers discharge vast amounts of energy as they thrill the audience.


In earlier days, stronger citizens marched through the streets of Akita, each lifting a kanto high in the sky with one hand. Now, in preparation for the Kanto Festival, the kanto are carried by the participants, led by the carriage of musicians, from each town to the place for preparation. When the time comes, the lanterns are lit, and the kanto entrance parade to the performance site begins with the kanto held parallel to the ground. When the opening ceremony is over, under the direction of the President of the Akita City Kanto Society, the kanto players demonstrate their training and skill to the visiting sightseers. The kanto performance consists of five techniques: Nagashi (basic); Hirate (palm); Hitai (forehead); Kata (shoulder); and the most difficult one of all, Koshi (waist). Other participants shout encouragement and applaud the performances.


The kanto is very much subject to the whims of the weather. If there is no wind at all, the kanto feels very heavy to the performer. A strong wind can cause the kanto to fall down, something the audience enjoys very much. When a kanto falls down, the air flow from the bottom opening of the lantern usually blows out the candle, and lantern fires seldom occur. When the festival performance has finished, spectators can enter the street and handle a kanto, even lift it if the person wishes and is strong enough. People can have their photographs taken with a kanto in the background, or together with any of the kanto participants.

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