Friday, August 06, 2010

竿燈祭り・Kanto festival

3 August ~ 6 August - and I went there every day.
So it might be best to talk about what Kanto actually is.
Firstly, it is a really old festival. It has a history of more than 3oo years, starting from the Meiji era and during that time it was celebrated to pray for a good rice harvest and the lanterns were to symbolize the rice stalks swaying in the wind. It was a small local celebration then with about 20 or more Kanto lantern pillars, but nowadays the amount of pillars has increased more than 10 fold and the festival has even caught the eyes of people overseas.
As by tradition, the lanterns are only carried by men due to the heaviness, but until the end of elementary school girls can also take part of the carrying (the smallest lanterns are about 5 kilos to 10). Afterwards they can be the taiko drum or flute players (most of the players actually are girls).
An essential part of Kanto - music. You can hear it from afar even not seeing the lanterns and already your hairs start to stand up. It's just so powerful. I can't really imagine the parade without the music. It just wouldn't be the real thing. But no can it be Kanto without the lanterns, now can it? Also the hayashi kotoba/kakigoe or the accompanying shouts to cheer the people on - 'dokkoisho, dokkoisho' is mostly heard, but the full-length version is actually 'dokkoishossho, dokkoisho, oetasaa, oetasa, nekko tsuita, oetasa' which of course is too long to say all the time (and has almost no meaning), but during today's last show it was shouted out in the speakers.

The usual festival hours were from 7 in the evening till about 9, but it sadly felt even shorter.
The towering lanterns over everybody's heads were so enchanting and magnificent that you just couldn't turn your eyes away. They quite scarily resembled people, walking slowly in the streets, bowing when the accidentally run into one another, scramble a bit and then slowly move on, gently swaying in balance of the people holding them on their shoulders, hips or foreheads.
Compared to the gentle lanterns, the people under them were running around like frantic ants on a hot summer day, which actually was true - it was hot and sweaty as in a sauna.
I can't say that it was a simple festival, but compared to all the complicated things in the world, it might have been the most clear example of the natural balance of everything - rapidness and calm, light and shadow, dream and awake... Yin and Yang in a really magical form.

But I most clearly remember today - the last of Kanto.
Different from usual, I didn't go far from the entry road along the pavement, but stayed near the crossroads where small children were gathering with their parents. Because there was a lot of space and a good view over the little heads I thought it might be the best place for me too to enjoy the show. Also concerning Kanto, it was the curve where the paraders turned around to go for the next round in the Kanto Road and for that there was a wide open agora (or in other words the fore-mentioned crossroads) to do the turn more easily. A lot of performing groups gathered there and it looked really crowded both on the ground and in the air. I arrived there during the end of the second performance and the beginning of the last. When the final whistle blew you could just see the flashing cheery eyes of the lantern holders, the stand-byes and the musicians. Whilst in air, the lanterns started to dance their gentle hypnosis for the last time, but then something even more intriguing happened. One person lost his balance and one of the Kanto pillars fell. So did the person next to him and his lanterns. And another. Then the next until most of the big lanterns on the curve fell down. It was like a blazing giant domino game. And I loved it! (How cruel, but I wasn't alone.) But that didn't mean the end of the show - they lighted the candles again and continued with all their might, but because they already had participated for 4 days, they seemed exhausted and the lanterns fell after that incident too. But they just kept on going.

Finishing whistle and everybody clapped and cheered. Finishing speeches from the mayor and another round of clapping. It was Fureai Kanto time - a chance to try to hold a kanto yourself, play the taiko and take photos of it all. Because it just might have been my once in a lifetime chance, I also grabbed hold of one of the pillars. It was the middle sized one, but still really heavy. If not mistaken, the middle one is about 30 kilograms. The biggest is about 5o and when decorations are added, it will be even more. I tried to hold it above, but of course I only succeeded in touching it correctly. Balance was a completely round zero.

God it felt great! Everything!

And adding to Kanto (or the time before it), I just spent the most magnificent day during my home stay so far. Because one of my sisters came back from Osaka for a home visit, we decided to go out to Nikaho city, me, host mum and the two sisters, to the more southern part of Akita prefecture past Honjo. We had a reservation in a place called Garden Cafe Time - a huge beautiful garden cafe where on a garden house veranda you can enjoy the healthiest homemade dishes in the world. Or so I believe. The place is just swallowed in a cloud of herbal aromas - mint, thyme, parsley, lavender, rosemary, all sorts of different flowers - everything was there. (The site is only in Japanese and there are no photos doing the place justice so I'll upload some pictures tomorrow. :)
Later we also went to a local small onsen, which had really rich baths. By rich I mean mineral wise. After that we went to THE BEACH.
YAHOOO! My kingdom! It was really awesome and fun and long waited, plus the water was so bright blue that it felt like burning in my eyes.
I just wish I had eyes coloured like so.
Lastly we yet again went to an onsen but a different one called Nemuno oka (ねむの丘) located at a road station. The building itself looked high class and when you entered the main doors there was a clear sign saying 'Baths on the 4th floor with a beautiful view of the sea.'
No kidding.
We just happened to arrive there during sunset.
Did I mention the water? Yeah, it was really rich. And it felt like burning my skin this time around. That might have been because of my sudden light sunburn. The sun in Japan is unbelievably strong - I don't go 'fried chicken' so easily...
Whilst driving back I sent my mate the Sun to the back of the horizon, spending some magical minutes constantly looking at the slow sinking of the orange melted sky and canary coloured clouds floating in a lavender purple sea. I almost felt like crying because of the sheer sight of all the beauty at that moment.
Only thing left to do now is to paint it by heart so that I could have a piece of the magic with me always.

Still being the luckiest bugger in the world. :)

Ta-ta and Hail hoy!

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