Representing summer at the center of Foujita’s mural is a depiction of the “Kanto Festival.”

A parade of around 280 “kanto” - bamboo poles bearing curtains of paper lanterns - unfolds to a traditional band accompaniment at the beginning of every August. They sway with the winds like rice grasses, painting the night with their yellow light and each town’s “chomon” seal. Pole-bearers clad in stylish navy blue hanten coats perform and compete among themselves, thus completing the poetic image of an Akita summer.

The Kanto Festival is a high-spirited event, and so many neighborhoods and businesses participate in the festivities today. Reportedly, it used to take place during Tanabata, and included a purification ceremony called the “Neburi-Nagashi”, which was meant to exorcise ghosts and specters of disease. That’s why the Kanto Festival is still sometimes referred to by many locals as “Tanabata” or “Neburi-nagashi.”

Long ago, pole-bearers would compete over who carried the heaviest kanto, but the festival has changed with the times, and such contests of “strength” became contests of “technique,” such as the “Nagashi,” where performers support the kanto to make it easy for the bearer to add “tsugidake” rods, which increase the height of the pole. Or the powerful and exciting “Hirate,” where the bearers lift the kanto higher and higher on the palms of their hands. There is also the solemn “Hitai”, where they bend their necks and perch the kanto on their foreheads, as well as the “Koshi” where they splendidly balance the kanto pole on their twisted lower backs. Performing any of these techniques while staying rigid as a tree stump is the mark of an exceptional pole-bearer.

Every year in June, you can hear traditional music throughout the streets of Akita as each neighborhood rehearses for the Kanto Festival. When you hear the music, you know summer has arrived in the city. Children gape at the tall kanto poles, shouting “Dokkoisho! Dokkoisho!” as they try to lift them - an experience everyone in Akita has had at least once. It is a festival deeply ingrained in the hearts of all Akita citizens.

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