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Hamamatsu Takoage-Gassen Festival, or better known as the Kite Fighting Festival among the foreigners, is a festival held in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture during Golden Week from May 3 to May 5.

During the festival, you will see more than 100 giant kites, about 4mx4m, launched up into the sky at the Nakatajima dunes. The Nakatajima dunes, which face the Enshunada sea, is among the three biggest sand dunes in the country.

Hamamatsu Takoage-Gassen Festival’s poster

This festival dates back to the 16th Century when large kites were flown in celebration of the birth of a baby son to the Lord of Hamamatsu Castle. Even today, kites are flown at Hamamatsu when a baby boy is born, a custom known as hatsudako.

Participants carrying the giant kite

Attempt to launch a giant kite into the sky

On May 5th, a festive day to pray for boys’ good health and a bright future, it is the custom in Japan to fly decorations called koinobori, which are carp-shaped streamers. Carp are known to swim up waterfalls and this powerful image of the carp overlaps with the image of advancing in one’s career. In Hamamatsu City, koinobori are displayed in a grand style, with the carp streamers flying on wooden poles as tall as 10 meters.

The festival attracts more than 1.5 million visitors every year

Kite Battles

An explosion of fireworks over the Nakatajima Sand Dunes is the signal for over 170 kites, each bearing the unique crest of a local neighbourhood, to be raised into the May skies. The first kites to be raised, known as hatsudako, are those celebrating the birth of a firstborn child. The firstborns, dressed in traditional festival dress, also have a leading role to play watching their kites fly from the safety of their fathers’ arms. Then, urged on by the sound of the bugles, hundreds of people pile in for the kite battles.

In the epic kite battles, opposing neighbourhoods entangle their 5mm-thick hemp kite-lines in an attempt to cut through the other kite-lines using friction. The friction burns the kite-lines, producing white smoke and a smell of burning. Meanwhile, both skill and wind are required to keep the kites aloft. Ripples of excitement sp

Participants of kite battles

Float Parades

Over 80 neighbourhoods compete to have the most spectacular goten yatai (palace-like float) in the float parades which illuminate the downtown area. It is said that long ago people used to make bottomless floats and parade alongside them to welcome back the young men returning from the kite battles, and it is thought that the float parades have their origins in this tradition. Since then it has become common for children playing flutes and drums to ride on the floats which have become increasingly elaborate, with many featuring spectacular carvings.

As night falls the floats move off to the accompaniment of samisens plucked by experienced festival veterans, flutes blown by children dressed in festival finery and drums beaten by children aboard the floats. The festival approaches its climax as the drums and flutes play out into the night.

Float Parades

Float parade with performers playing Japanese traditional festival music.

This is a parade of floats of gorgeous sculpture works carrying three-stringed lute and flute bands. This was originally a parade welcoming youngsters returning from the kite-flying contest. All these events are organized as part of the Hamamatsu Matsuri (Hamamatsu Festival). During the festival, all kinds of entertainments are organized in all parts of the city including Act City in front of Hamamatsu Station.

The giant flying kites

Hamamatsu Takoage-Gassen Festival 2012

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