Japan Tradition: Akita Kantō

The Akita Kantō (秋田竿燈まつり) is the Akita city festival. It is celebrated from 3 to 7 August with the aim of praying for a good harvest. This festival is very special, and to participate there is a need for special skills.

Akita Kantō

photo credits: Zamboni.

The peculiarity of the Akita Kantō

If you have never had the chance to attend this particular matsuri, surely today you will be surprised. In fact, the festivities consist of taking bamboo poles around the city by night. And so far it could even be simple, except that these poles have a length that varies from five to twelve meters. Furthermore, on top of these, there are twenty-four or twenty-six lanterns with gohei (wooden sticks) attached. The total weight of these poles can reach 50 kilos. They are transported through the city streets on the palms, foreheads, shoulders or backs of the participants.

The Akita Kantō is one of the main festivals in the Tōhoku region together with the Tanabata, the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri and the Hanagasa Matsuri. In fact, in 1980 it was defined as an important and intact property of folk culture.

Akita Kantō

photo credits: Laura Tomàs Avellana, hitoyam

The origins

The festival originates from Neburi Nagashi, a celebration that was intended to free from illness and negativity during the summer. Already present during the Horeki period, in the middle of the Edo era, evidence can be found in various historical documents. One of these is "Yuki no huru michi" (written by Soan Tsumura in 1789). This is indeed the oldest documentation describing Neburi Nagashi, which says that the festival was held on 6 July according to the lunar calendar and it's defined as the original Akita tradition.

During Neburi Nagashi, people decorated bamboo trees and plants with pieces of paper where they wrote their wishes. Later, the participants walked around the city with these plants along with candles and lanterns. Later, Neburi Nagashi took the name of Kanto.

photo credits: foxeight 

The history of the Akita Kantō

The current name of the event was used for the first time by Tetsusaku Okubo in 1881. In this period, in fact, the emperor Meiji visited Akita. Here Okubo suggested entertaining the emperor with the Kanto performance.

Due to the change of the lunar-to-solar calendar in 1872 and given the smaller number of Kanto participating in the festival, the realization of the latter began to be uncertain.
However, in 1908 the emperor Taisho visited Akita and fell in love with the Kanto performance. The following year, a soft drink company printed its products' names on the Kanto lanterns. These two events led to the restoration of the Kanto festival and its change of dates, to avoid the rainy season.

Akita Kantō Akita Kantō

photo credits: Laura Tomàs Avellana

As a result, the number of visitors increased and the Kanto Society was established in 1931 was in charge of managing the festival.

Afterwards, the festival was canceled during the Second World War, and then after the end of the conflict, the Executive Committee of the Kanto Festival was created.

In 1976, after a successful performance in San Diego, USA, Kanto became popular in various countries.

Cos’è il Kantō

Literally, Kantō means "a pole with lanterns" and is made from bamboo poles and rice paper lanterns hung on horizontal bars.
The main bamboo pole is called "Oyatake" and they are of rather thick features and all produced in Japan. There are even very strict rules on the thickness and the spaces of junction from the root for these poles.
Therefore, people who choose the pole must be very demanding on the type of bamboo used to produce Kantō.

photo credits: Laura Tomàs Avellana, Choo Yut Shing

The horizontal branches are called "Yokotake" and it is here that lanterns are hung. The pieces of bamboo used to make the Oyatake even longer are called "Tsugidake".

The Kantō are divided into four categories with regulated length: Oowaka, Chuwaka, Kowaka and Youkawa.

Kantō techniques

There are various techniques for using Kantō from the name "Myogi" and divided into 5 categories.

Akita Kantō Akita Kantō

photo credits: Laura Tomàs Avellana

Nagashi
The artists hold the Kantō in the palm of their hands and balance it with their fingers. In this way, other artists can add Tsugitake

Hirate (hand)
The artists hold the Kantō still higher in the palm of his hand

Koshi (hips)
Kantō is held by the fingers. Later moved to the palm of the hand and then to the side. The artist bends sideways and balances with his own legs.

Akita Kantō

photo credits: Laura Tomàs Avellana

Kata (shoulder)
The artists hold the Kantō in the palm of their dominant hand and form a starting line from the leg to the Kantō, raising it even higher.

Hitai (forehead)
The artist holds the Kantō with his fingers and then moves it to the palm, then on the forehead.

During the day there are also competitions to test these skills, the Myogikai. The aim is not only to show their skills but also to study those of the other participants to learn new techniques.

Akita Kantō

photo credits: foxeight

The Akita Kantō today

The date of the festival has been changed three times. It is currently held from 3 to 6 August each year.

The evening performance of the Akita Kantō is the main one and is held at the Kanto Oodori, one of the main streets of Akita. Here the purpose of the performers is not to compete with each other, but to entertain visitors by showing their skills and illuminating Kanto. More than 230 are raised at the same time to the sound of taiko music and flutes.

Akita Kantō

photo credits: foxeight

A unique experience of its kind that is worth living in full, as soon as you have the chance.


Bringing Japan to Italy: episode 08 - Alex Kerr

In conjunction with the release of his book "Lost Japan", Alex Kerr held a conference at the Palazzo Reale in Milan. We at Japan Italy Bridge had the opportunity to meet him and ask him some questions.

In this episode 8 of our Bringing Japan to Italy series, Alex Kerr tells us about his secret Japan. Son of an American navy family, from a young age he travels the world between Italy, Japan, USA, and then returns to the land of the Rising Sun. Since his college years, Alex Kerr has made Kyoto his life base.

Here he discovered a new world, a Japan that we Westerners can hardly see. A country made of traditions, small villages and thatched-roof houses with antique wood floors. He tells us how his life has changed thanks to winning the Scincho Gakugei literary prize. As a result, Alex Kerr came into contact with a group of Litterti and Japanese artists with whom he still collaborates today.

But now we leave you with the words of Alex Kerr and his secret Japan. Enjoy the video!

Special Thanks: Associazione Giappone in Italia

Lost Japan: Amazon US


Japan Tradition: Tenjin Matsuri

The Japanese summer is characterized by the famous matsuri, including the Tenjin Matsuri (天神祭) of which we speak today.

photo credits: Pic tures, jtabn99

Ranked as one of the three largest Matsuri in Japan, Tenjin Matsuri takes place in Osaka. It started in the 10th century, but today it takes place between 24 and 25 July each year. However, the major celebrations take place on the second day, including the procession along the river together with the fireworks display.

This particular festival is dedicated to the Tenmangu Temple and its main deity Sugawara Michizane, God of scolars. Like other famous matsuri (Gion Matsuri di Kyoto and Kanda Matsuri di Tokyo) also here the festivities begin in the temple.

Le festività

photo credits: hyossie,Sonali

It all starts with the opening ceremony. Here the deity is invited to leave the temple and then a parade begins. The inhabitants of Osaka entertain the divinity with exuberant festivities, before bringing it back to the temple.
This becomes an opportunity for everyone to fully enjoy the hot days of summer. In fact, you can see people wearing traditional costumes and spectacular parades.

The Tenjin Matsuri in detail

As we have said, the Tenjin Matsuri takes place over two days. The first day, on the morning of July 24th, the festival begins at the Tenmangu Temple. Here people gather for a traditional ritual and then move on to pray by the river. The inhabitants of Osaka in this way in fact ask for prosperity and security for their city.
In the afternoon of the same day, the drums are played by men with big red hats. This serves to inform the population that preparations for the festival are complete.

However, the culmination of the celebrations takes place at 3.30 pm on the second day, July 25th. At this time, the drum players with red hats lead the procession.

photo credits: hyossie

Starting from the Tenmangu Temple, the parade crosses the streets of Osaka. In this long procession, we find characteristic masks. We cannot fail to mention the Sarutahiko, a long-nosed goblin riding a horse. These masks are accompanied by inflatables, festival music, dancers of various kinds and other attractions.

An hour after the procession begins it is time for the mikoshi to leave the temple. This "portable temple" contains within it the deity Sugawara Michizane. On this occasion, the mikoshi follows a girl and a boy who have the task of guiding a sacred ox, the messenger of Michizane. During the parade other mikoshi appear, but if you want to see the one dedicated to Michizane, keep your eyes open for the temple with the phoenix.

At 6 pm, the parade arrives at the Okawa river. Here the people and the mikoshi are loaded onto the boats to continue the parade on the river.

photo credits: jtabn99pasteis de nata

The Tenjin Matsuri and the "stage boats"

It is also possible to find "stage boats". In fact, on some of these boats, it is possible to watch performances of the traditional Noh and Bunraku theater. Moreover, in the midst of all these boats, you can also see the Dondoko, small boats that easily navigate the river thanks to young rowers.

 

photo credits: elmimmowolf4max

We cannot then forget the endless delights of street food in Osaka, an extremely famous city for its food.

The procession continues while the celebrations go on during the evening. The climax is reached again from 19:30 to 21:00 when the fireworks show begins. Japan is known, it is famous for its fireworks show. However, those of the Tenjin Matsuri along with its illuminated ships reflecting on the river, offer a unique show of its kind.

After the end of the fireworks, the mikoshi land and return to the temple at 22:00, marking the end of the festival.

photo credits: Ced'ceenoei 

The turnout

Tenjin Matsuri is usually one of the busiest times of the year, especially along the banks of the river during the evening show. In fact, to watch the fireworks show it's really hard to find the right place to fully enjoy the show.
However, there is the possibility of purchasing tickets for seating located near Temmanbashi station. The cost is about ¥6000 and requires reservations in advance. This will allow you to have a good view of the procession but not a perfect view of the fireworks.

photo credits: japannewbie, Mi-Shin Shinoyama

The bridges along the Okawa River are closed during the parade and offer a privileged place as a viewing spot. However, visitors cannot stay long to ensure smooth traffic for all those present. Instead, the Kawasaki bridge is also closed to the public also because common people are not allowed to look at the temple deity from above.

The town decorated

During the Tenjin Matsuri, Osaka is decorated with thousands of colors, lights, torches, and lanterns all along the city center. A show not to be missed for both locals and tourists!

If you have witnessed past matsuri or are planning to attend the next one coming, let us know what you think!

photo credits: Laura Barrio


Bringing Japan to Italy: episode 07 - Yoko Takada

A few months ago, in conjunction with the Novegro comics festival, we had the opportunity to interview Yoko Takada. For this seventh episode of 『Bringing Japan to Italy』, the artist specializing in Japanese culture, tea ceremonies, Kimono dressing and much more speaks to our microphones.

Yoko Takada has kindly granted this exclusive interview for Japan Italy Bridge to help promote and share more the Japanese culture. Furthermore, we talk about the similarities between Japan and Italy, and why the bow is so important in the land of the rising sun. Did you know that? Enjoy the video!


Giappone, secret beauty with Alex Kerr

Alex Kerr, writer, orientalist and author of the book "The Beauty of secret Japan" will hold a special conference on Thursday 11 July at 18.30 at the Palazzo Reale in Milan.

Published by EDT, "The beauty of secret Japan" arrives in the bookstore where Alex Kerr tells of Japan and its ancient culture that is disappearing today. In this book, the author tells "from within" the millenary culture of Japan, with deep and passionate knowledge. Kerr talks about the sensuality of kabuki theater, the art of calligraphy, the tea ceremony, the rituals of Shintoism and the different Japanese religions. Without failing to talk about Zen monasteries, traditional architecture, the mysteries of everyday life and much more.

In "The beauty of secret Japan" the author describes the surviving natural and landscape beauties, such as the wonderful valley of Iya, on the island of Shikoku. Here, at the end of the seventies, Kerr bought an ancient rural house, Chiiori (the house of the flute). After the restoration where he paid great attention to traditional materials and techniques, Alex Kerr makes it the starting point of personal and passionate research towards the disappearing Japan.

alex kerr

Biography

For those of you who don't know Alex Kerr, we're talking about an American writer living in Japan for over forty years. Kerr is also considered one of the most esteemed orientalists in the world and is the first and only Western writer to have been the recipient of the Scincho Gakugei Literary Award for the best non-fiction work in Japan.

Kerr has dedicated his life to the study of the culture and traditions of ancient Japan. From calligraphy to teaching traditional arts, from collectors to the restoration and architectural restoration of disused traditional houses. Kerr's activities have created a form of sustainable tourism in the most unknown and unspoiled rural areas of Japan.

The Alex Kerr Conference

Of the beauty and secrets of ancient Japan, Alex Kerr will speak at his conference at the Palazzo Reale in Milan, Thursday 11 July 2019. Organized by the EDT publishing house in collaboration with Associazione Culturale Giappone in Italia, Alex Kerr will present us not only his new book but also his life experience in Japan.

At the end of the conference, there will be a tasting of three types of Japanese tea offered by La Teiera Eclettica di Milano.

We at Japan Italy Bridge will be there, and obviously, we are waiting for you!

Information

When: Thursday 11 July, 6.30pm
Where: Palazzo Reale | Sala Conferenze Piazza Duomo 14, Milano
Accreditation: The conference is free with a request for accreditation by mail or telephone to 0115591851 | a.dantoni@edt.it


Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan soon on NETFLIX

For all the TV series addicted that lately are going through a crisis of abandonment (or disgust) for the latest Game of Thrones series, do not despair, "Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan" is on its way.

photo credits: wikipedia.org

Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan, the series

According to Deadline, Netflix in collaboration with Blu Ant Media-run Smithsonian Canada, would have included in its programming Age of Samurai. in fact, described as a real Game of Thrones of feudal Japan, the series will tell the wars between the various kingdoms of that era.

According to previews, the focus of the series will be the figure of Date Masamune, the famous samurai also known as One-Eyed Dragon. He fought alongside the three founding fathers of Japan, warlords who led fierce samurai armies against one another. The purpose of these wars was the unification of the nation about 400 years ago.

The epic figure of Date Masamune, whose legend tells of having lost an eye infected with smallpox as a child, is the protagonist. Furthermore, after killing his younger brother, he succeeded his father as clan leader when he was only 17 years old.
Also conquering the neighboring clans, Date Masamune began the rise to power to unify northern Japan under his control.

Production details

Netflix has commissioned to produce the series at the Canadian production company Cream Productions, already behind the PBS series The Dictator's Palybook, BTK: A Killer Among Us and Fear Thy Neighbor.

Furthermore, executive producers, as well as Cream's CEO and co-founder David Brady, President Kate Harrison and senior production executive Matthew Booi, will be Simon George of the movie Jason Silva for Nat Geo Origins: The Journey of Humankind, Barbarians Rising for History and Showtime documentary Pariah: The Lives and Deaths of Sonny Liston.

photo credits: dualshockers.com

According to the source, Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan is already being filmed in Japan, the United States and Canada. The series is in fact expected to land on Netflix by the end of the year.

We look forward to it and look forward to seeing this new series in one go! And you?


Festa del Giappone 2019 Video Report

On June 9th, we had the pleasure of participating in the "Festa del Giappone". Organized by our friends from Giappone in Italia at the Circolo Magnolia in Milan, the event was a real success!

Among stalls, workshops, conferences, and shows connected to Japan, the public was able to dive even for a little bit into the true Japanese culture. Furthermore, Kokeshi dolls, paintings and many delicacies that have attracted the attention of all visitors. While starting from the Okonomiyaki passing through the typical Japanese curry rice to the famous Takoyaki, the Japan Festival also involved several personalities from the Rising Sun scene in Milan.

We at Japan Italy Bridge have made a little video recap and we hope to see you at the next Japan Festival!

 


Bringing Japan to Italy: episode 06 – Takarabune

A few months ago, in conjunction with the Japan Matsuri in Bellinzona, we had the opportunity to interview one of the very few Awa Odori dance troupe: Takarabune!

The Awa Dance Festival (阿波踊り), the largest dance festival in Japan, is held from August 12th to 15th as part of the Bon Festival in Tokushima prefecture of Shikoku in Japan.
The earliest origins of this style of dace are found in the Japanese Buddhist priesthood dances of Nembutsu-odori and hiji-odori of the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333), and also in the kumi-odori, a lively crop dance that was known to last for several days.

The Takarabune group has been traveling the world for years to bring joy and to share the culture of Japanese festivals with all other foreign nations.
In an exclsive interview for Japan Italy Bridge they tell us how they see the relationship between Italy and Japan and their thoughts on our beautiful country. Enjoy!

Follow Takarabune

Website: takarabune.org
Facebook: facebook.com/Takarabune.official
Instagram: @takarabune_official
Twitter: @Takarabune_info