Kanto Festival in Akita
Imagine juggling with 50kg lantern poles!
Dates: 3-6 August 2015
Location: Akita City, Tohoku, Japan
There are several prominent summer festivals throughout Japan, but the Aomori Nebuta Festival, Akita Kanto Festival, and Sendai Tanabata Festival of the Tohoku region are huge in scale and popularity, and make up the three great festivals of Tohoku. Because the three great festivals of Tohoku are held at nearly the same time, they can all be enjoyed together in one trip. Why not visit Tohoku in the height of the summer while watching these summer festivals?
A "kanto" is a pole with lanterns attached to it, resembling a stalk of rice. In Akita’s Kanto Matsuri it is carried with body parts including the face, waist, and shoulders while praying for a good harvest. The festivals consist of 230 poles with 10,000 lanterns in total. It is an incredible sight to see the kantos, which weigh 50-60 kilograms each, being passed on with the faces, shoulders, and waists of the carriers along with valiant music, sounds, and shouts of "Dokkoisho!"
The festival started around 250 years ago with the original purpose, held before harvesting was started, to ward off sleepiness lest it interfered with the work. At the Akita festival nowdays, the huge kantos are paraded through the streets of the city by young men balancing them on their shoulders, hips or hands. To the sound of flutes and drums, and cheered on by the distinctive traditional shouts, the performers thrill and impress the spectators as they shift and balance the kanto on their foreheads, shoulders and lower backs.
For more information visit the festival’s official website at www.kantou.gr.jp.
Awa Odori Dance Festival
Japan's biggest dance festival
Dates: 12-15 August
Location: Tokushima City, Shikoku, Japan
This Tokushima festival features folk dances performed to welcome the souls of ancestors in the Bon season, from July to August. It is well known throughout Japan for these words, which are voiced to set the rhythm: 'It's a fool who dances and a fool who watches! If both are fools, you might as well have fun dancing!`
The dance dates back to 1587 when the feudal lord Hachisuka Iemasa (1558-1638), in celebration of newly-built Tokushima Castle, offered sake to the people of the castle town; the citizens became so drunk they started to dance in an unsteady gait. Awa is the former name of Tokushima. The Awa-Odori is characterized by irregular steps and by the jovial and energetic up-tempo rhythm. Separated into groups of men and women, the dancers parade through the city while dancing to music played on drums, gongs used when praying to Buddha and at festivals, three-stringed Japanese musical instruments and flutes. The basic rule of this dance is to move your right arm forward with your right leg and your left arm forward with your left leg in turns to the two-beat rhythm.
The daytime attraction is the Selected Awa Dance by groups of several dozen dancers giving graceful performances on stage (admission charged). After 6 p.m., the town becomes enveloped in greater fervour. The excitement reaches fever-pitch by 10:30 p.m. with dancing going on all over the city - parks in the city centre, dance stages where you can watch the dance up close, Odori Hiroba where even spectators sometimes join in the dancing and even local shopping areas.
For visitors to Tokushima who miss the festival, a museum about the Awa Odori can be found in Tokushima city. Here you can also see dance demonstrations, which are held several times a day.
For more information, visit Tokushima’s website.
Sapporo Snow Festival
Japan's largest snow festival held every February
Dates: For 7 days, starting in the second week of February
Location: Sapporo City, the capital of Hokkaido, Japan
The Sapporo Snow Festival, considered by many to be Japan's premier winter event, has been going for over 60 years. The festival had humble beginnings back in 1950, when local high school kids built a handful of snow sculptures in Sapporo’s central Odori Park. Since then the event has grown exponentially, with hundreds of snow statues and ice sculptures adorning the park and the streets of the Susukino neighbourhood.
For seven days every year in February, Sapporo is turned into a winter dreamland of crystal-like ice and white snow. Odori Park which serves as the main venue is located in the city centre, and a space extending 1.5km transforms into a snow museum. International Square (Nishi 11 chome, Odori) becomes the stage for the International Snow Statue Contest and every year more than 10 teams compete from all over the world. As this is a park, you can drop by whenever you like. The lit-up snow statues are so beautiful (nightly until 22:00).
In addition to the amazing works sculpted from snow and ice, the festival also has an ice skating rink and attractions for children, such as ice slides and the snow mazes. Naturally, there is also lots of delicious street food to warm you up.
The festival attracts about 2 million visitors each year from Japan and all over the world. A highlight of the 2015 festival was an enormous Star Wars snow sculpture that looked like the Empire's take on Mount Rushmore. The Star Wars snow sculpture measured 15 meters tall, 22.6 meters across, and 20 meters deep. It took almost a month to complete and 700 five-ton-trucks worth of snow. We look forward to seeing how they top that one in 2016!
For more info, visit the official site at www.snowfes.com.
Kishiwada Danjiri Festival You may be thinking that "danjiri" sounds a bit like "dangerous," and with good reason!
Dates: the weekend before Respect for the Aged Day, 19 & 20 September in 2015
Location: Kishiwada City, Osaka, Japan
There are lots of festivals featuring danjiri, or a portable shrine in Japan, but the one in Kishiwada is most famous for its dangerous performance. In this Osaka festival they tow danjiri carts very fast on the streets and sometimes crush at corners. Thirty- four danjiri, weighing as much as four tonnes, are taken around Kishiwada city, Osaka and 600,000 people visit the city to view them during the two-day festival.
The festival was started 300 years ago by the lord of Kishiwada castle to pray for a good harvest. Today, teams from each of the city’s wear uniforms and proudly pull their own danjiri, running or walking in rhythm to the music of the flutes, bells, and drums. The man called “daiku-gata” or a carpenter, is given the honour of dancing on top of the danjiri. The most exciting vantage points to watch the festival is at corners, as they try to turn at right angles without slowing down. Sadly, there have been deaths and injuries over the years of this high-paced festival.
At night, the city is lit with lanterns and the parade proceeds at a slower pace so you can better appreciate the danjiri floats’ elaborate designs. You’ll also find lots of stalls selling snacks and beverages on the streets.
Kishiwada city is in south Osaka, between Osaka city centre and Kansai International Airport. From Osaka, take Nankai Railway from Namba station and get off at Kishiwada station. It takes 25 minutes and cost only 480 yen. Danjiri pass nearby the station, but the best spots for viewing are located 10 to 20 minutes walk away which are called Kankan-ba and Konakara-saka (next to the City Hall). Click here to watch a video of this dangerous, high-paced festival.
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