Kanto Matsuri Festival
Imagine trying to balance a 12 meter bamboo pole on your forehead. Now add 46 paper lanterns to that pole, each of them lit with a candle.
The Kanto Matsuri is a celebration in Akita City, held every summer from August 3 – 6, where performers balance an array of kanto (bamboo poles) on their bodies. It’s one of the three great festivals of Tohoku – Aomori’s Nebuta Festival and Sendai’s Tanabata are the other two.
Kanto Matsuri was traditionally performed in hopes for a good harvest and artistic progress, as well as wiping out evil energy that might invite illness.
A Balancing Act
The crowds chant, “Dokkoisho, dokkoisho” (a saying akin to “heave-ho”) as performers precariously balance 8-12 meter high, 50 kg poles on themselves. Paper lanterns lit with candles speckle the poles, further entertaining spectators with the impressive display. Performers cycle in, carefully adding pole extensions until the kanto are at their maximum height.
At the centre of the city is Chuo Dori street, nearly 1km long, and it’s where all the main event action happens, attracting thousands of spectators.
Kanto performers are grouped in various clusters, carrying upwards of 250 kantos. Once a signal is sounded, the performers raise their kantos together, showing off their skills and wowing the crowds of Akita City.
The show begins at 7:25pm and lasts about an hour and a half, ending around 9:00pm. At the end of each show, the crowd is invited to talk with performers, take pictures with them, and even participate in kanto holding under the guidance of a performer.
There’s plenty of area to sit along the street to enjoy the free show, but you can also reserve seating for around ¥2100– ¥2600. Be sure to book it in advance (up to three months) as it can sell out quickly.
Daytime Entertainment & The Kanto Competition
In Agora Plaza, a number of daytime events are held from 10:00am to 5:00 pm, entertaining guests and residents of the city. Spectators can even participate in activities like lifting miniature kanto poles.
The Kanto Competition also takes place during the three days of the festival, close to the Akita Museum of Art. It’s highly entertaining, as the kanto teams compete in everything from solo performances to group performances, all accompanied by lively music.
The Kanto Museum is also closeby, where visitors can learn about the history of the Kanto Matsuri Festival, and of course, try their hands at balancing their own kanto pole.
Getting To Akita City From Tokyo
Akita is far from Tokyo, and the three main ways to travel are air, rail, and bus.
There are multiple flights per day between Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Akita Airport. The flight is just over an hour, and cost anywhere from ¥14,000 and ¥28,000, depending whether or not you can find discount tickets. From the airport, you can take a bus which is about a 40 minute ride and costs around ¥930 for a one-way ticket.
You can take a direct Komachi train on JR’s Akita Shinkansen to Akita from Tokyo. All seats require reservations and a one way trip will cost around ¥18,000 and will take about four hours to get there. This route is completely covered with the Japan Rail Pass, The JR East Tohoku Pass, and the JR East South Hokkaido Pass.
The overnight buses Akita Chuo Kotsu and Odakyu Bus run from Tokyo to Akita. The trip is an eight hour trek and costs about ¥9,500 for a one way ticket. A round trip ticket will cost ¥16,700 and must be used within 10 days. There are some even cheaper options for busing, such as Willer Express, with one-way fares as little as ¥5000.
Once in Akita City, the Kanto Festival is very accessible. The night time parades are about a 15 minute walk west from Akita Train Station, and Agora Plaza is about a 5 minute walk from the station.
Kanto Matsuri Festival
SummaryThe Kanto Matsuri is a celebration in Akita City, held every summer from August 3 – 6, where performers balance an array of kanto (bamboo poles) on their bodies. It’s one of the three great festivals of Tohoku – Aomori’s Nebuta Festival and Sendai’s Tanabata are the other two.
August 3, 2017