During the Akita Kanto Matsuri (pole lantern festival) in early August, Akita city becomes magically breathtaking. Why? Akita is an impressive place. Think about Kakunodate cherry blossom festival in spring and Yokote kamakura festival in winter. Both are highly impressive seasonal festivals. On the other hand, Akita’s summer festival – Kanto, makes you crazy to fall in love with it.

A long bamboo pole, height of 12 meters, weighing to 50 kilograms with 46 illuminated paper lanterns in total, all together called Kanto – is displayed by the skilled performer in the night parade. The festival is all about balancing a long kanto using various techniques including events like contests, daytime kanto demonstration, and music performances.

This is one of Japan’s most notable summer festivals. Photo Credit: yisris at Flickr.

It is probably a very tough job to perform in front of millions of visitors for ordinary people like me but they do it quite nicely. And they deserve at least couple of hand-claps from you. Don’t they? For you it would not a bad idea spending few days in Akita city and experiencing the atmosphere of this popular summer festival in Tohoku.

You will be overwhelmed. It is going to be a memorable experience for you. Summer is an exciting time to travel to Japan. Why not to pick Akita as your summer vacation spot for this year? The festival will be held from August 3 to 6. Don’t forget the time.

During your stay in Akita, please visit Akita Dog Museum in Odate. Akita dog breed is widely beloved and it is native to Akita prefecture. You can read this true story of a faithful Akita dog and understand yourself why it is designated as a Japanese National Treasure.

About the Festival

They are all ready to show off their skills. Photo Credit: hildgrim at Flickr.

Every year in summer, the Akita Kanto Matsuri is held August 3 to 6. It is one of the three great festivals of Tohoku region together with Sendai Tanabata Festival and Aomori Nebuta Festival. It has been designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Japan as well.

About 1.2 million visitors come and enjoy the spectacular performances. When people think about visiting Akita in summer and search for the best thing they could do in summer is to participate in this biggest summer festival. Yes, finally there is a way to enjoy the summer in Japan.

History of the Akita Kanto Matsuri

Takio drummers. Photo Credit: hildgrim at Flickr.

According to Akita city guide, the festival originates from the old ceremony known as Neburi-nasgahi in Horyaku period (1751-63). It was a folk event that was not much popular and was celebrated in order to force the summer drowsiness away. During the Meiji Era (1868-1912), the festival was named “Kanto” in 1881.

Since then the festival was held due to bring good harvests in autumn and purify the body from evil spirits. This tradition is still existed. People began organizing parade along the street at the beginning of the 19th century carrying giant Kanto. Kanto Skill Contest was first introduced in 1931 where performers from different neighborhoods in Akita were sent to compete.

What is Kanto?

A Kanto is a long bamboo pole where paper lanterns are arranged to resemble an ear of rice. Usually, a Kanto is 12 meters high, weighing about 50 Kilograms, with 46 illuminated paper lanterns including a Shinto offering of cut paper (Gohei) which is placed at the very top of the bamboo pole. About 250 Kanto are brought out in front of the spectators in the street.

What does a Performer do?

Oh that’s an awesome technique! Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A performer holds a Kanto making sure that candles inside the lanterns don’t blow out while demonstrating their skills at balancing the kanto on his forehead, palms, hips and shoulders. Among these hips/waist technique is most difficult one. On the day they perform it is the day of their pride.

It seems like they are born to be Kanto performers but nothing else. Their awesome skill and effort at balancing giant kanto would defiantly blow your mind instead blowing their own candles. They are strong, skilled and the supreme performers what actually this festival requires to have an enchanting event.

Insight into Kanto Matsuri

A Kanto performer is marching with a kanto. Photo Credit: hildgrim at Flickr.

The festival is celebrated for four days from August 3-6. The main highlight of this event is watching the brilliant performances of balancing bamboo poles (Kanto) using some techniques. Along with experiencing this you hear the sounds of drums, flutes and of course hand-clapping from the viewers.

Summer is hot and humid in Japan. Sometimes life is hampered due to excessive heat. Though, we don’t care about it. When the festival arrives we all get prepared to make it entertaining and unique. The main event is occurred at Chuo Dori Street at night around 19:25 to 21:00. The night parade makes the whole festival incredibly joyful.

Upon arrival of darkness, illuminated paper lanterns are to arrive. The crowds line up along a 1 kilometer stretch of Chuo Dori Street and wait for the parade. Then all of a sudden, Kanto are carried by the participants, led by the musicians.

Flute players on the night parade. Photo Credit: hildgrim at Flickr.

Various performing groups including the Kanto holders show off their skills. They are dressed in short jackets, white tabi socks, hachimaki headbands, zori straw sandals. They entertain the viewers for about 90 minutes. Some guys plays taiko drums, some plays flutes while other shout loudly though not like an insane. Everything is in control! Kanto performances are displayed while spectators expect to take some photographs using their cameras and phones.

The main event has started – Hip balancing technique! Photo Credit: Yo3up at Flickr.

They are busy with their own tasks while you do inspire them through clapping your hands several times. The ends of the closed off road provides a spectacular view for spectators. As a result, most of them try to reserve seats (paid) there. This spot could be very crowded, especially on the weekend.

When the festival performance has finished, you have the right to enter the street and handle a Kanto with the help of the performers. You can take close-up photograph of the Kanto. This surly adds something special to your trip. My suggestion to you is – if you can’t handle a Kanto by yourself at least try to touch it until you can feel it.

Kanto Festival is not only about the night parade

You can view huge kanto on daytime. Photo Credit: Rosino at Flickr.

I know the night parade is the main event here but there is something special you could experience on day time. What’s that? I am sure that you are excited to know it. Well, daytime events are held at Agora Plaza, located in front of the Seibu Department Store. Various events such as dance, music, taiko drum performances including Kanto Demonstrations are held in the morning and afternoon on the first three days of the festival.

You are not going to pay any money to attend the event. It is free for all! In addition, there are Kanto competitions, held during daytime on the last three days of the event in Senshu Park. Here, each team competes in solo, group and performance categories. Apart from these events, I highly recommend you to visit Akita Museum of Art. Visiting the museum would let you know about the history of the festival and many more.

Important Things to Know

Kids kanto performers during the night parade. Photo Credit: hildgrim at Flickr.

How to get to Akita city?

I suppose you are intending to travel to Akita from Tokyo. Ok, if so then take direct Komachi trains on the JR Akita Shinkansen that runs between Tokyo and Akita. If you have a JR Pass then you don’t need to purchase ticket at all. It is fully covered by your JR Pass. It takes about 4 hours to reach to Akita from Tokyo. There are buses that could take you to Akita from Tokyo but train is faster so my advice is to you to take the trains instead of a long ride bus journey.

Place: Chuo Dori Street, Akita City. About a 12-15 minute walk from JR Akita Station
Festival Date: August 3-6, 2020.
Time: Night Parade 7:25 pm to 9:00 pm
Official Website: http://www.kantou.gr.jp/english/index.htm
E-mail: akita@kantou.gr.jp
Telephone: 018-888-5602 (Akita Kanto Executive Committee)
Admission: Free with no seating but you would have to pay 2100-2600 yen for reserved seats.

Welcome to Akita Kanto Festival 2020

Akita is one of the leading rice farming areas in Japan. Therefore, celebrating this sort of festival is important for the people of Akita. They pray to god to have a good harvest time through celebrating this breathtaking summer festival. Along with experiencing Kanto matsuri you have a great opportunity to try out Akita’s local specialties. Here, I suggest you to have some Inaniwa udon. It is a famous type of Udon originates from Akita prefecture. Very delicious and relaxing!

Akita is a four season destination. Every season is unique and offers you numbers of festivals to experience. I know most of the people are busy with their own stuffs. Though if you could manage at least a day where you are free from work then I believe visiting Akita during the Kanto festival would be just amazing. I am telling this to the one who lives in Japan only. Those who are willing to see it from abroad should get here in Akita before end of the last day event. Otherwise you would miss everything. Take it seriously and have some fun summertime in Akita. Good luck.