Huge Glowing Ears of Rice Swaying over the Town on a Summer Night
The Kanto Festival held in Akita City, Akita Prefecture, located in Tohoku, the northeastern region of Japan, ranks alongside Aomori's Nebuta and Sendai's Tanabata as one of Tohoku's top three festivals. It has been designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property. Held annually from August 5 to 7, the Kanto Festival is to ask for an abundant grain harvest. It has become a symbol of Akita, a leading rice-growing area. During the festival, 1.3 million people throng the city streets.
In the evening when the heat of the day finally subsides, Kanto Avenue, now closed to traffic, suddenly seems to be covered with Kanto. A Kanto is an array of many candle-lit lanterns hung on a bamboo frame and each one looks like a glowing ear of rice. The larger Kanto, weighing about 50 kg (110 lbs.), rise 12 m (13.2 yd.) into the air and suspend 46 lanterns. With more than 200 Kantos, the number of individual lanterns reaches 10,000. Supporting these lights are 3,000 people, including performers who demonstrate wonderful skills. To the sound of flutes and drums, and cheered on by the districtive traditional shouts, the performers balance the Kanto without gripping the poles, and placing them on the palms of their hands, they raise them higher and higher. Along the wayside, the crowds of spectators are thrilled and impressed as the performers shift and balance the Kanto on their foreheads, shoulders, lower backs...
The Kanto Festival dates back to the middle of the 18th century. It originates from combination of rites requesting good harvests and protection of physical health by ridding the body of impurities and evil spirits.
Around the beginning of the 19th century, the festival became an event in which people paraded around in the streets, carrying Kantos to show off their strength, and people carrying 50 Kantos can be seen. As times changed, the focus shifted from strength to pride in technique. In 1931, the Kanto Skill Contest was inaugurated and neighborhoods in the city sent representatives to compete. These days there is a skill competition on the final day of the festival. In this, some of the participants perform feats of skill with enormous Kanto that are 18 m (19.8 yd.) tall.
Photo: Kanto Festival (The Organizing Committee for the World Games 2001 Akita)
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