The Kanto Matsuri ("pole lantern festival") is a Tanabata related celebration in Akita City, held every year from August 3rd to 6th. The highlight of the festival is an impressive display of skill in which performers balance kanto, or long bamboo poles with arrays of paper lanterns attached to the end. The Kanto Matsuri together with Aomori's Nebuta Festival and Sendai's Tanabata make up the Tohoku Sandai Matsuri (Three Great Festivals of the Tohoku Region).
The kanto poles come in different sizes with the largest measuring 12 meters, weighting 50 kilograms and carrying as many as 46 paper lanterns, lit by real candles. To the sound of drums, flutes and onlookers chanting "dokkoisho, dokkoisho", each kanto is hoisted up by a single performer who balance them on end using various techniques. The performers change every few minutes and gradually add extensions to the pole until the kanto are at their maximum height.
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The main event of the festival, the Night Parades, are held nightly along Chuo Dori street in the center of the city. The various performing groups, carrying nearly 250 kanto poles, line up on the street, and when a signal is given, the poles are all raised up at once and the performers show off their skills. The event lasts about 90 minutes, and at the end of each night there is a 15 minute session during which the audience is invited to talk to the performers, take pictures and try their hand at hoisting up a kanto.
The performing area of Chuo Dori is nearly one kilometer long and there is plenty of places to sit on the sidewalk along the route. The ends of the closed off road offer a particularly spectacular view, but can be more crowded. Reserved seats set up on the median of the road are also available for between 2000 and 2500 yen, and reservations can be made beginning a few months in advance up until the day of the event if not sold out. Naturally, it is more crowded on festival days that fall on a weekend.
The festival also has daytime events which are mainly held at Agora Plaza in front of the Seibu Department Store. These include taiko drum, dance and music performances, as well as Kanto Demonstrations which are held in the morning and afternoons on the first three days of the festival. The events are free to attend and while seats are not provided, spectators may watch from around the plaza.
Additionally, Kanto Competitions are held during daytime on the last three days of the festival in Senshu Park next to the Hirano Masakichi Museum. Every kanto group fields one or two teams to compete in categories such as solo, group and performance set to music. The competitions are free to attend and no seating is provided. Also of interest is the Kanto Museum (or Neburinagashi-kan) where you can learn about the history of the festival and try out balancing a kanto pole yourself.