Akita Kanto Festival

Akita Kanto Festival
Photo: kantou.gr.jp
The Akita Kanto is an annual Japanese festival celebrated in the city of Akita, the capital of Akita Prefecture. It is one of the major festivals in the Tohoku region, alongside the Hanagasa Matsuri in Yamagata, the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori and the Tanabata Festival in Sendai.

The roots of the Akita Kanto Festival can be traced back to the 18th century. It is believed to have originated from Neburi Nagashi, an annual festival that was held every summer to get rid of illness and maliciousness. During the festival, people prayed for artistic progress and good harvest.

In Akita, people used to decorate bamboo stems with strips of paper on which they wrote their wishes. They walked around the city holding the poles and then threw them into the river and let them float down the stream. With time, people added paper lanterns, candles and gohei (wooden wands used in Shinto rituals) to the poles. These constructions were named kanto and some time later the Neburi Nagashi festival was renamed Akita Kanto after them.

The word “kanto” is literally translated into English as “a pole with lanterns”. It is made from bamboo poles 5 to 12 meters long and rice paper lanterns hanging from horizontal bars. Kanto can bear 24 to 46 lanterns and weigh up to 50 kilograms. They are classified into four categories depending on the length, weight, size of lantern and the number of lanterns.

Although the Akito Kanto originated as a harvest festival, over the years it has transformed into a showcase and competition for kanto performers. The festival is managed by the Kanto Festival Executive Committee that is in charge of the entire festival and the Kanto Society responsible for the Kanto Skill Competition. The Akito Kanto is held from August 3–6 every year.

There are five main techniques of kanto that are collectively called myogi. During the contest, performing groups, each consisting of five members, are required to demonstrate all five categories of myogi, one at a time. Besides, there are individual competitions. At the end of the contest, the winner in each competition is awarded a prize.

Alongside the daytime competition, the festival features the night performance considered the highlight of the Akita Kanto. Instead of competing with each other, performers simply showcase their talent and skills to entertain visitors.

Kanto Matsuri

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org




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