For four days from August 3 to 6, the Kanto Avenue is filled in the evening with the countless lights of lanterns hanging from poles. When the heat of summer is eased by the cool breeze of twilight, the energetic and beautiful performances of Kanto teams start with joyful music of flutes, taiko drums, and gongs. The Kanto poles illuminating the night sky are divided into four different sizes: o-waka, chu-waka, ko-waka, and yo-waka. Within the four, performances with o-waka poles by adults are the main highlight of the festival. Each of the twelve-meter-long poles weighs 50 kg and carries as many as forty-six lanterns in nine rows. Performers place it on various parts of their bodies: on their hands, foreheads, shoulders, and even on their hips. With shouts of “Dokkoisho, dokkoisho,” each of the poles stands upright, bouncing elegantly like ears of rice in autumn fields. The experience of seeing more than 260 poles rising in the night sky is spectacular. The festival plays an important role as a form of prayer for good harvests throughout the year.
It is said that Kanto originates from the ritual of Neburi-nagashi (“getting rid of sleepiness”), which was once widely practiced throughout the country to rid oneself of daytime sleepiness in the summer. Kanto customs originated in the outer district (commoner’s district) of Kubota castle town (current Akita City), and were born in the hope of achieving their original aim as well as ensuring a good harvest during the Horyaku period (1751–1763).