Loading Map...

Hamamatsu Kite Festival

Written on: Saturday September 10th, 2011

A journal entry from: Japan

I first heard about the Hamamatsu festival my first year in Japan. I was on the way back from a Golden Week trip, and a young woman sitting next to me on the Shinakansen (bullet train) started chatting with me. She told me she was on the way to the Hamamatsu kite festival. Seeing as I live in Shizuoka prefecture, she was surprised that I didn't know about it.

Kite flying is a traditional pastime for children in Japan, especially boys. You will sometimes see kids out in the parks flying kites, but, like in Western countries, not as often as in the past. New Year's and Children's Day (which is really "Boy's Day") seem to be popular and traditional times for kite flying.

And the Hamamatsu festival is held over Children's Day. There are many of the usual aspects of summer festivals - dancing, music, and dashi (山車) – which are something like decorated wooden stages on wheels. Teams of people pull them along the street in parades, while others sit on top playing traditional musical instruments. Although I've heard there are a couple others, this is the only festival I know of that centers around kites.

And these are big kites...it takes 5 or so people just to carry one. People form teams with their friends and peers and each team seems to have one or two kites, with their own unique designs. The designs usually have historical or cultural significance. The teams spend the festival hanging out, eating, drinking, and kite-battling. Once they get onto the field – accompanied by the brass band part of their team – and find a spot in the crowd, different members of the team play different roles.

There seems to be one or two main people in the lead of the rope, although once the kite is high up in the strong winds, it takes a few people just to hold on the rope. The rope is wound up on a huge, industrial size spool, which a few other team members look out for. When the rope is being let out out or pulled in, you can have ten or more team members pulling the rope while running in a kind of circular relay to get it fed out quickly. One of the team is usually there with a whistle to keep rhythm and to signal when to start and stop. Another uses a megaphone to shout instructions and encouragement. If the kite gets into trouble, several team members will work together pulling hard on the ropes. There's also a few people who have to hold and launch the kite. It often takes more than one try to get it up and going. And of course, there are people who have to be ready to dash across the field and try to catch the kite if it suddenly nosedives, or to try to untangle ropes from other kites. I saw one man, tending the ropes of his kites (which was waiting to launch), have another kite come down next to him, with the multiple strings attached to the body of the kite coming down on top of him like a spider web. The kites can get tangled up on nearby trees and power lines as well. 

And, if the kite is flying high and everything is going well, everyone gathers in a circle and some of the team members (usually the kids, too) and hoisted up on shoulders and everyone dances to the bouncing brass bugles. Of course, the man with the megaphone is there, too, shouting away.

Even as an observer I had to be careful. Especially on the windward side of the field – kites might suddenly swoop down near you, with the ropes of the tails sweeping over you. Or, if you are unlucky, it might come down almost on top of you. I only had one kite swoop close enough to make me jump, myself. 

The festival continues into the evening with a parade of dashi on the streets of downtown, and the bright, bouncing sounds of the music and dancing, with of course, of the usual food stalls lining the streets. The only way to finish the day, really -another party!

But for me, just sitting in the sunny afternoon watching the kites and the music and the teams jumping around was enough.

These pictures are from May 2010.