Japan has no shortage of festivals throughout the year. But there is one that is truly a spectacle all its own. The Hamamatsu Kite Festival in Shizuoka prefecture is a unique festival, where you are transported to an ancient battle in the sky. I’ll even go so far as to call it “epic.” I know how much hate that word gets, so I don’t use it lightly. Keep reading to learn more about this exciting festival!
About Hamamatsu Kite Festival
The Hamamatsu Kite Festival, or Hamamatsu Matsuri, happens during Golden Week. It lasts for three days and usually (always?) falls on the three holidays, Constitution Day, Greenery Day, and Children’s Day. It’s three days of intense kite battles, with each day more exciting than the last. According to Wikipedia, the first kite festival was in 1558 when the lord of Hamamatsu celebrated the birth of his son. In the middle of the Edo period, it became popular to fly kites on Children’s Day and knock them out of the sky.
Now the kite festival is held at Nakatajima sand dunes in Hamamatsu. The the actual kite flying area is right beside the sand dunes in a green grassy battle field. This is a great place to fly kites because it is next to the ocean, giving the area lots of ocean winds to keep the kites soaring in the open air.
About the kite battles
The Hamamatsu Kite Festival is not a religious festival but a local festival. The kites are large and need several people just to carry them. They are made out of bamboo and paper, and are tied to a weighted station by a thick rope. It takes a team of people to carry and maneuver the kites. Each kite is painted with designs, pictures, and Japanese letters and names and belong to each team.
The team of kite flyers each have their own uniform. There are also teams of drummers and bugle players. The area is very noisy with the sounds of battle cries and “Oisho! Oisho!”
And the main attraction is not just the kite flying itself, but the kite battles. The goal of each team is to fly their kites as high as possible, and some of them get so high they look like mere specs in the sky. At the same time, the goal is to take down other teams’ kites.
The kite team pulls and releases their kite so the rope crosses over the rope of another team or teams. Then once the ropes are twisted together, they pull the ropes back and forth to create friction. Using all their muscles to pull the kites, they pull and shout. They keep pulling and rubbing the ropes together until one of them finally snaps, and the lost kite floats away to fall into the sand or the trees. The friction of the ropes even causes them to smoke, and the excitement of each team is palpable.
Around the festival area
Since this is a Japanese festival, it has all the trappings of a regular Japanese festival. There are food tents cooking yakisoba, fried chicken, and candy apples. I’m always in awe of how the people working inside the tents in the heat next to a deep frier don’t pass out from heat stroke.
The area surrounding the kite field has trees which do a great job of keeping the wind off the people while keeping the kites in the air. On the side of the kite field is a stage where someone announces the start of the battle and the winner of the kite battle.
Wooden and concrete walkways wind through the pine trees, and you can see several kites trapped in the trees. Teams of men prop letters against trees to try and retrieve their losing kite from the clutches of the branches. Bits of rope and paper litter the ground in areas.
There are so many teams, I’ll even venture to say there are a couple hundred. That’s a couple hundred teams of people and a couple hundred kites. There’s probably an equal mix of kites in the air and kites on the ground and kites “resting” next to their team’s tent.
The Nakatajima sand dunes
Next to the kite battle field on the Hamamatsu Kite Festival is the Nakatajima sand dunes. These are one of the three largest sand dunes in Japan. It’s very cool to stroll along the sand dunes with the ocean crashing in the distance and trumpets in the other distance.
During the kite festival, the sand dunes become the place where fallen kites come to die. If you do happen to see one bite the dust, a group of men will soon come running to retrieve it and carry it off to determine if it is salvageable or mourn their loss.
The ocean is not the most beautiful, and I’m not sure if people swim here in the summer. It might be too rough and deep to swim. But it’s the ocean, and that in itself is cool. It’s nice to walk barefoot through the sand when you need to get away from the intensity of the kite battles.
Getting to the Hamamatsu Kite Festival
The kite festival is in Hamamatsu city in the bottom part of Shizuoka. Get off the train at Hamamatsu Station on the JR regular line or the Shinkansen. From the station is a shuttle bus that will take you to the battle field. It’s then a ten minute walk as you hear the sounds of the bugles increasing and the excitement building.
I’ve been to the Hamamatsu kite festival twice, and I recommend saving a full day for it. There are constantly things to see, foods to eat, and the ocean will call you. From my experience, it’s better to get there by bus and shuttle than by car. One time we drove from Nagoya, but Golden Week is not a good time be on the highway, so it took a long time. Bring a hat and sunscreen or whatever you need to not get a sunburn and pass out. There is also a float parade in the evenings in Hamamatsu city, though I didn’t spend much time watching this.
But most of all, simply enjoy the experience of this ancient battle brought to life before your eyes.
More Japanese festivals – Obon matsuri at Nagoya Castle