Akita City Folklore and Performing Arts Center 秋田市民俗芸能伝承館
The Akita City Folklore and Performing Arts Center in Akita is mainly about Akita prefecture's most famous festival, the Akita Kanto Festival. There are displays, too, of other festivals, traditional events and folklore unique to Akita Prefecture.
For part of the year, you can also see live reenactments of the prodigious lantern-bearing skills involved in the Akita Kanto Festival.
The Akita Kanto Festival
The Akita Kanto Festival is Akita prefecture's most famous festival, happening in Akita City between August 3rd and 7th every year. The Kanto Festival is a harvest festival, but has its roots in an old summer purification ritual called Neburi (or Nebuta) Nagashi, which is still observed in many places throughout Japan, especially in the Tohoku area, of which Akita prefecture is a part. The Kanto Festival's roots are apparent even today in the Kanto Festival's still being popularly referred to as the "Akita Neburi Nagashi" (and even the Akita City Folklore and Performing Arts Center as the "Neburi Nagashi Kan").
"Neburi" is a Tohoku regional variation on the word "nemuri," or "sleep." Nemuri Nagashi is a Shinto ritual whereby the "sleep demon" is exorcised, "sleep" referring not only to drowsiness, but also to the posture people assume when smitten with disease and injury. Paper dolls called katashiro are set afloat and carried away (which is what "nagashi" means) thus expelling the "sleep demon" that so affects people in the heat of summer.
Today's Akita Kanto harvest festival that developed from these nebuta roots features great sail-like bamboo structures bearing dozens of paper lanterns, called "kanto" (竿燈 "poles" + "lanterns"). The poles are precariously balanced on various body parts of the bearers and paraded through the streets. The swaying lanterns they bear symbolize ripe heads of rice ready for harvesting. This takes place to the accompaniment of "hayashi" (musical instrument groups), which play a set repertoire of tunes that are as distinctive a part of the festival as the pole-borne lanterns themselves.
Kanto Festival Skills Demonstration
Live performances of the bamboo lantern pole balancing skills that feature in the Kanto Festival are put on by members of the Kanto Association on the (very high-ceilinged!) 1st floor every weekend and national holiday from April to October from 1.30pm - 2.10pm. The pole bearing is accompanied by festive drumming and flute-playing by a hayashi music group. At the end, visitors, too, can try their hand at pole balancing.
Other Akita Festivals and Folklore
On the 2nd floor are displays, mostly of mannequins in festive garb and accoutrements, relating to other Akita festivals, such as the following.
Tsuchizaki Minato Bayashi (Tsuchizaki Port Festival) is a music and float festival that lasts through most of July, with the float procession (featuring very distinctive and brightly colored life-size papier-mâché figurines) happening on July 20 and 21 in and around Tsuchizaki Shinmeisha Shrine, about 6 km north-west of the Akita City Folklore and Performing Arts Center.
Akita Manzai is an Akita New Year tradition of spreading good cheer where pairs of characters visit houses on foot at New Year and tell funny stories.
Yamayabangaku is a dance tradition associated with Ikimen Shrine in the Taiheiyamaya district of Akita City, about 15 km west of the Center.
Kurokawabangaku is a stage performance with its roots in ancient times done for the sake of a good harvest and takes place in mid-August in the Kanaashikurokawa district, about 12 km north of the Center.
The Hanekawakenbayashi music and dance festival featuring swords and fans takes place on the third Sunday in September at and around the Hachiman Shrine in Shimohamahanekawa about 13 km south of the Center.
Old Kaneko Family House 旧金子家住宅
The Old Kaneko Family House is next to, and forms part of, the Akita City Folklore and Performing Arts Center. Gifted to the city in 1996, this house preserves the style of traditional late-Edo era dwellings. The Old Kaneko Family House began as the home and business premises of a pawn and second-hand clothing merchant. Although burnt down in 1886, it was reconstructed over the next two decades in its original form. It did business until 1982, dealing in brocade and hemp fabrics. The earthen walled storehouse on the premises is the Edo era original.
Occasional exhibitions take place in the Kaneko Family House, but its main interest is architectural, and a 5-10 minute stroll around it, through its imposing entranceway and airy, spacious, elegant interior is enough to get a good impression of it.
Hours9.30am-4.30pm, open every day of the year except December 29-January 3.
100 yen, and free for junior high school age and under. 250 yen for a ticket for both the Akita City Folklore and Performing Arts Center and the Akarenga Red Brick Folk Museum (450 meters down the road, going right out of the Akita City Folklore and Performing Arts Center).
The Akita City Folklore and Performing Arts Center and Old Kaneko Family House are about 6 or 7 minutes's walk west of Senshu Park, or a 12-minute walk west of Akita Station. Walking away from Senshu Park/Akita Station, take the second road on your left on Route 233 after crossing the bridge over the Asahi River, and it is on the right hand side of the road.
1-3-30 Omachi, Akita City, Akita Prefecture 010-0921
Tel. 018 866 7091