Akita Kanto Matsuri – A Thrilling Summer Festival in Akita City, Japan

Balancing kanto poles with lanterns at Akita Kanto Matsuri

Akita Kanto Matsuri (竿燈まつり)

Akita Kanto Matsuri, also known as the pole lantern festival, is an annual event that brings in over one million visitors every year! At this festival you can watch as over 10,000 candle-lit lanterns are hoisted into the sky on bamboo poles by event participants.

In this post, you will find all the details on the Akita Kanto Festival including how to get to Akita City, where to stay, the history behind the festival, and tips for attending the events.

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How to Get to Akita City

Akita City is located in the Akita Prefecture in Japan’s northern Tohoku Region. The easiest way to get to Akita is by bullet train. If traveling by train you’ll take the Akita Shinkansen to Akita Station.

Akita City is roughly 5 hours away from Tokyo or around 3 hours from Sendai by shinkansen. Once you exit the train station the main area for the festival is only about a 15-minute walk west of Akita Station.

Where to Stay in Akita City

Like other Japanese festivals, Akita Kanto Matsuri is exceptionally crowded so it can be hard to find a hotel if you don’t book in advance. Based on our experience we recommend booking at least 8 months out.

During our time in Akita City, we stayed at the Comfort Hotel Akita. We liked this hotel because it was budget-friendly and close to Akita Station and the main area of the festival making it easier to get around for the duration of our time there.

The rooms at the Comfort Hotel Akita were clean and comfortable and although slightly small in size, we didn’t mind because we spent very little time in our hotel room. Another perk of this hotel is the free breakfast that they offer each morning.

If you are having trouble finding a hotel in Akita also recommend looking at Airbnb. Just keep in mind that when booking an Airbnb make sure they have an official government license number and check reviews as well!

The History Behind Akita Kanto Matsuri

The origin behind this festival comes from Neburi Nagashi, a ceremony for getting rid of illnesses. The actual start of the Akita Kanto Festival was in the 17th century as a dedication and prayer for good harvest and health in the upcoming year. When it first began there were only around 5 kanto and few participants, but over the years the number grew and now there are over 250 kanto and hundreds of participants!

Attending Akita Kanto Matsuri

During Akita Kanto Matsuri, performers balance extremely large kanto (bamboo poles) with rows of lit paper lanterns. These kanto typically range in size, the largest having 46 paper lanterns with lit candles inside. These specific kanto are around 40 feet (12 meters) tall and weigh 110 lbs (50 kg).

Balancing kanto poles with lanterns at Akita Kanto Matsuri
Some of the smaller kanto at the festival.

During the daytime, there are a number of street food stands and other entertainment located by Akita Station. Some of the entertainment includes a preview of what’s to come during the evening of the festival. A few participants gather with their kanto poles filled with paper lanterns and show off their balancing skills.

Before the evening festivities begin we suggest taping down a tarp or blanket along Chuo Dori, the main street where the events take place. This is so you can designate a spot so you can have a good view of the event! Tarps and tape can be bought at convenience stores or 100 yen shops around the city so you don’t have to worry too much about finding them.

Kanto poles at the Akita Kanto festival
Because the streets can get crowded there are times where two of the kanto can get intertwined. We even saw some get stuck in trees.

As the evening events begin, visitors line up on the 1 km stretch of Chuo Dori as the hundreds of performers line the street with over 250 kanto poles. Once the drum signal is given, performers hoist up the kanto with one big push all at the same time. They then make their way down the street taking turns carrying the kanto for the 90 minutes the event takes place. 

Balancing kanto poles with lanterns at Akita Kanto Matsuri

Around them, participants begin chanting “dokkoisho, dokkoisho” (which means “heave-ho!”) to the beat of the taiko drums and wood instruments. As the chanting continues, the performers place extensions on the pole one at a time until they are at maximum height. As this happens, they continue to show off their balancing skills by placing the pole on their forehead, hip, shoulder, or in the palm of one hand!

Balancing kanto poles with lanterns at Akita Kanto Matsuri
This participant is balancing one of the larger kanto on his shoulder!

After the main performance is over, you can meet with the performers to talk, take photos, or try hoisting up one of the kanto yourself! But while they make it look easy, be careful! They’re extremely heavy. 🙂

Basic Information About Akita Kanto Matsuri

Where: Akita City, Japan
When: August 3-6
Times: August 3-6 – 7:25pm-9pm
Cost: Free to attend

Would you want to attend Akita Kanto Matsuri?

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