May 11, 2010
Japan Tour - Part Three: Kite Frenzy in Hamamatsu

Festival Celebration

Wah-shoi! Wah-shoi! -- the chanting is everywhere!!

You hear it on the festival field, in the street parades and at neighborhood parities. The chanting is accompanied by the undulating and repetitive pounding of the kite music blasted by hundreds of drums, bugles and whistles. Soon you begin to hear it in your dreams.

Hammamatu is in the throes of a full-blown kite frenzy!

I asked several friends what Wah-shoi meant and each time the answer was different. "Do it!" "Hey! Hey!" "Go-go-go!!"

We began our day early on the kite field. Teams had already assembled and were lofting large paper and bamboo creations into the sky. Each flying team is supported by groups of drummers, buglers, and cheering onlookers -- all waring traditional happi coats in the neighborhood colors. More than 150 neighborhoods took part.

Kite Field

The distinctive rectangular kites of Hammamatsu have been made for hundreds of years. Each neighborhood produces several kites in different sizes. The kites are made to honor children born in the preceding year and sponsored by the families. Those families also host the local parties and cover the not insubstantial beer and sake tab.

Festival Kites Festival Kites Festival Kites

The flying itself is a finely tuned and deliberate process. With space limited, the kites are laid out for a long-line launch. With a whistle signal, the team captain announces the lift off. Line is pulled in to gain altitude. Then with another signal, line is let out. The process repeats in light winds as each kite maneuvers for position.

Festival Scenes Festival Scenes Festival Scenes

Line is managed on large, antique winders that are rolled onto the field with great ceremony. When the signal is given to pull-in, the drumming and bugles begin. Supporters wave their hands or fists in the air. Team members run in a circle retracting the line around a bamboo or metal fulcrum. (much like what we saw in Thailand). When the signal is given for line out, the drumming stops and the line sings through the captains gloved hands.

The primary goal is to bring down other neighborhood's kites though cutting, tangling, or tipping. But ultimately, I think everyone is there to celebrate and have fun.

Street Parade Street Parade Street Parade

In the evening, the teams reassemble and move into the streets for enthused parades. Imagine thousands of partiers marching down the boulevard, wearing traditional costumes, shouting and waving flags or carrying lanterns. Imagine 150 bands, made up of bugles, drums and whistles -- all playing the same song.

Following the teams are the decorative floats. Each community designs its own elaborate rolling display called Gotenyati. Some are hundreds of years old.

Contemporary floats are illuminated and carry groups of students playing delicate flutes and stringed instruments. They are a startling contrast to the rough and boisterous bugle and drum corps. On top of each float - three stories above the street - are young men with the unenviable task of guiding power lines up and over the roofline.

I was interested to learn at the city kite museum that these floats actually evolved over time from the carts originally used to carry kites and line to the fighting field.

Street Parade

Miles from the parade streets, we joined one of the community organizers to see where and how the kites were made. An hour later, he turned an ear to the window, smiled, and told us that the team was coming. In the distance, we heard the drums.

The group turned the corner at the end of the block and spilled into the street. They were still in cadence and still blaring the Hammamatu music.

As they reached us, 150 marchers disbursed. They broke into small clusters, sat in the street and began to feast on noodles, chicken, and fish. I was amazed they had marched the entire distance back!

Street Party Street Party Street Party

Beer was brought to the teams. A large cup would be handed to someone and the drums, bugles and whistles would begin. Fists pump the air. Like pulling in the kite line, the noise would only stop when a cup was emptied. And then it would start again at the next group.

A keg of sake was rolled out and large bowls were passed around. And once again, the music would begin.

The only thing I can say here in my own defense is that spilling sake on yourself is the best evidence that you were sober or cognizant enough not to drink it all. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

I've loaded three video here to give you a brief taste of the flying field and the street parades. I'm not aware of video evidence from the parties.

Hammamtsu was a fitting climax to a fantastic trip. The next day, Mike, Al, Jim and I sped off to Tokyo on a 200 m.p.h. bullet train and headed to the airport. Mata ei masho, Japan! See you again!!

Rok Show

We're in Japan and the kites are cool!

Check out our Traditional Japanese Rok designs. Each kite is fully appliqued with zig-zag stitching used to secure overlapping fabric-to fabric. Details are boldly highlighted. Spars are attached with ribbon-ties. Edge-binding is used to provide extra detailing.

We have eight patterns -- each a reproduction of original Japanese kite art and complete with an outline of the character and its meaning.

They sell for $175 in the 7 by 6 foot size. But order before the 15th, and we'll take 20% off any of the eight styles.

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