Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (40): The balancing act in Akita

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 2, 2007

STARTING ON FRIDAY and continuing until Monday is an event that exemplifies what I mean when I say that Japanese festivals are the world’s best free entertainment. That would be the Kanto Festival in Akita City, Akita Prefecture. It is one of the three major festivals of the Tohoku (northeastern) region, and it has been designated an important intangible cultural asset by the national government. More than one million people turn out to witness the spectacle every year.

The festival took on its current form during the middle part of the Edo period (which would be sometime in the 18th century) as a midsummer event to drive away the evil spirits and pray for a bountiful harvest. The first record citing the festival dates back to 1789. It is one of many lantern festivals in Japan, but none of the others are quite like this one. Men clad in traditional happi coats carry 235 poles filled with a total of about 10,000 lanterns down the city’s main street. Each pole holds up to 46 lanterns on crossbars. The poles are 12 meters high and weigh 50 kilograms each.

The men do not carry them on special belts, such as those worn by the people who carry flags in parades. No—they balance them on their hips and foreheads, encouraged by shouts of “Dokkoisho!” from the crowds lining the street.

And this is what it looks like:

3 Responses to “Matsuri da! (40): The balancing act in Akita”

  1. Durf said

    Congrats on #40. This series is fantastic . . . Have you thought about packaging it up and shopping it around to publishers like Kodansha International? Seems like something that would sell well on dead trees.

  2. Durf said

    (I’m serious about that, by the way; I have a friend at K Int’l and would be more than happy to put you in touch.)

  3. tomojiro said

    I second Durf’s idea.

    It’s even amazing for an average Japanese. Especially about matsuri like that one from Kagoshima.

    Not well known even among Japanese but it was a splendid article.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: