Akita Kantō Matsuri: Lighting the Summer Night with Myriad Lanterns on Towering Poles

Guide to Japan Travel Culture

The Akita Kantō Matsuri is held for four days, August 3–6, in the city of Akita, capital of Akita Prefecture. Kantō are long bamboo poles laden with racks of bright lanterns. Carriers balance the poles skillfully on the palms of their hands, their foreheads, and other parts of their bodies, calling out a rhythmic chant as they parade. The festival is a highlight of the short summer season in the Tōhoku region (northern Honshū), and the undulating kantō are reminiscent of ears of rice swaying in the wind. The myriad lanterns are taken to represent bags of rice, expressing the hope for a bountiful harvest.

The Akita Kantō Matsuri originated in the eighteenth century as an event conducted to drive away summer diseases and evil spirits. It is one of the three great festivals of the Tōhoku region, along with the Aomori’s Nebuta and Sendai’s Tanabata. It has been designated an important intangible folk cultural property, and the practiced pole carriers who keep up this tradition also display their skills at events elsewhere in Japan and abroad.

(Originally published in Japanese. Created in cooperation with Cable Networks Akita.)

festival summer Tōhoku Akita Akita Kantō Matsuri