Throughout the year, a multitude of festivals come to life in the Tohoku region of Japan. Among them, the Akita Kanto Festival, held annually from August 3rd to 6th in Akita City, is a beloved spectacle, earning its reputation as one of the Three Great Festivals of Tohoku.

The impressive skill of performers who masterfully balance towering 12-meter bamboo poles on their palms and hips is a sight to behold. About 280 of these poles, adorned with golden lanterns, illuminate the night sky in a captivating dance of lights.

In this feature, we delve into the history and highlights of the Akita Kanto Festival, as well as attractions in the surrounding area. Equip yourself with this knowledge to heighten your festival experience and journey into the heart of Japan’s rich cultural traditions.

Main Photo: Courtesy of the Akita Kanto Festival Executive Committee Secretariat

About the Akita Kanto Festival

(Photo: Akita Kanto Festival Executive Committee Secretariat)

The Akita Kanto Festival (Akita Kanto Matsuri) represents the essence of summer in Akita Prefecture. Designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property by the Japanese government, this traditional event is one of the three major festivals in Tohoku, along with Aomori’s Nebuta Festival and Sendai’s Tanabata Festival.

Held in Akita City, the gateway to tourism in Akita Prefecture, the Akita Kanto Festival takes place in the heart of the city.

Spanning four days from August 3rd to 6th, it attracts a multitude of visitors from both domestic and international destinations. With the city center serving as the festival venue, approximately 10,000 lanterns illuminate the streets, creating a mesmerizing atmosphere.

What exactly is a “Kanto”?

(Photo: Akita Kanto Festival Executive Committee Secretariat)

The main attraction of the festival is the “Kanto,” a thick bamboo pole adorned with up to 46 lanterns. The bamboo pole represents a sheaf of rice, while the lanterns symbolize rice bags, embodying the festival’s wish for abundant harvest and prosperity.

The origins of the Kanto can be traced back to the mid-Edo period, during the years of the Horeki era (1751-1764). Originally, it was a ritual to ward off summer ailments and drowsiness.

In the first year of the Kansei era (1789), a document described a procession where numerous lanterns were lit on long poles arranged in a cross shape, resembling the prototype of the current Kanto Festival.

During the main event, known as the “Night Performance,” approximately 280 Kanto poles gather at Kanto Oodori street, located about a 15-minute walk from JR Akita Station. Men known as …

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