Tokyobling's Blog

Hamamatsu Matsuri – Kite Festival

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on May 8, 2014

Hamamtsu Matsuri is truly one of the grand festivals of Japan, attracting between a million and a million and half participants and visitors for a three day period in the beginning of May every year. The festival is mostly famous for its epic kite battles but there is so much more going on!

The history of the festival is unusually murky (this being Japan) but it is said to have its origin in the later half of the 16th century as a lord of the local castle celebrated the birth of his first son together with the townspeople. This later merged with a local tradition of throwing a celebration for firstborn sons and by the late 18th century it was customary to fly special kites in the neighborhood of the family. By the Meiji era the custom was considered quaint and too old fashioned but by then it had been picked up by local firefighting teams and the kites started flying the emblems of the firefighters who would compete with their kites in a friendly rivalry. The local firefighters also picked up drums, banners and bugles to use in signaling a commentator in 1883 mentions that it looked like miniature war.

By the end of War World 2 the firefighter’s kite battles had been picked up by the locals themselves and there were now 50 teams taking part (these being from the Old Neighborhoods). In 1975 the city government decided to sponsor the inclusion of the New Neighborhoods and in just a few years 112 neighborhoods were taking part in the kite battles. On the last count there were 174 neighborhoods represented in the festival.

The Kite part of the festival takes place outside the city near the ocean on a large open field. There are special shuttle busses taking tourists and locals from Hamamatsu station to the Kite field and the whole festival is probably one of the best organized in Japan. I visited on the second day of the event when the winds were unusually weak and the kite teams were struggling to launch their huge kites in the air. It is a fantastic team effort and although I do not know how many people it would take to launch and operate a kite most teams I saw had everything from a dozen to nearly a hundred participants. Townspeople not directly involved in the operating of the kite do their best spur the men on with drums and bugles and enthusiastic cheering. I will post more about this fantastic festival in the days to come so stay tuned!

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14 Responses

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  1. D... said, on May 8, 2014 at 10:00 am

    I’ve always loved kites, the whole concept has a magical quality, does it not? Something about a flat plane being able to fly or glide, while one feebly hangs onto a string. When I was a kid I thought it would be like walking a bird. Although I don’t think I was quite good, too many electrical poles about and a particularly small frame were not a good combination. Your pictures brought that all to mind.

    And murky history are quite fun in my book. If you really think about it after a certain time history gets murky, it just can’t help itself.

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on May 9, 2014 at 12:14 am

      “Walking a bird”. You are on a roll D…! Thank you for the kind and nice comment! (^-^)

      Like

      • D... said, on May 9, 2014 at 1:38 am

        ‘Tis your beautiful inspiration dear friend (^-^)

        Like

  2. dragonlife said, on May 8, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Once again I couldn’t make it!

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on May 9, 2014 at 12:13 am

      Too bad! I was actually keeping an eye open in case I might run into you. There were a couple of guys who looked very much like you. (^-^;)

      Like

  3. zoomingjapan said, on May 8, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    I’ve been in Hamamatsu quite a few times, but never to the Hamamatsu Kite Festival YET! 🙂
    I’m surprised the weather was so good. This year’s GW weather was a bit crazy. :/

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on May 9, 2014 at 12:15 am

      You missed the best part of Hamamatsu! (^O^) It was windier on the 3rd, excellent (but not much wind) on the 4th and a bit of rain on the 5th I think. I was only there for the 4th of course. Other than that I was was working all through the GW!

      Like

  4. Timi said, on May 8, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Whoa,must be some work to make those giant kites fly, but they are breathatking! Both design and the scene of the kites flying!

    Like

  5. Mikku said, on May 12, 2014 at 5:18 am

    For some reason, I’ve not heard of this festival before so will have to try to make it there next year! And as impressive as the kites look, I always love the people shots you take. I first stumbled on your blog whilst searching for awa odori dates (I’m a fellow awa otaku!) and have just subscribed, so am looking forward to following your exploits through the coming awa season!

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on May 12, 2014 at 5:40 am

      It is a fantastic festival. I wish I could go every year but it is a little bit from Tokyo and during the busiest season of the year for me. Good, you are a fellow Awa otaku! Or Awa-baka as we sometimes say. (^-^)

      The next promising Awa event in Tokyo that I know of right now would be on the 17th, at 3 o’clock and 4 o’clock, two performances by the epic Shinoburen at the shotengai near Narimasu Station. Shinoburen on this blog:
      https://tokyobling.wordpress.com/tag/shinoburen/

      Like

      • Mikku said, on May 12, 2014 at 7:15 am

        Thanks for the reply! So is that this coming Saturday the 17th? I wasn’t expecting to see any awa for another month at least, so may have to get myself over there for an early fix!! Is it just Shinoburen performing or are other ren there as well?

        Like

        • tokyobling said, on May 12, 2014 at 8:53 am

          Yes, May 17th, just Shinoburen, doing two sets (not more than 30 minutes each I think). Still Shinoburen is one of the best teams in Tokyo so it will be a treat! There are one or two of these smaller one or two team events almost every week in Tokyo if you know where to look! (^-^) The day before that they do a few small shows at the Awa restaurant in Shinjuku. Here’s is their homepage with more info (in Japanese): http://shinobu-ren.jimdo.com/最新出演情報/

          Like

          • Mikku said, on May 17, 2014 at 1:28 am

            That’s brilliant info, thanks! Sadly I can’t now make it there today so I’m hoping you can to take some pictures for us awa fans! yoroshiku ne.

            Like


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