Feb 15, 2011

The Origination of Giant Balloon Festival

Kamifusen-age紙風船上げ), Giant Ballon Festival, is one of the traditional event in Nishiki Area.

Nishiki town (西木町) is located in the north of Kakunodate town and west of Tazawako area, known for the beautiful rural scenery of the deep north.

Throughout the year, Nishiki is a popular destination to see the vast fields of dogtooth violet (“katakuri”) in spring and Saimyoji chestnut (bears the largest chestnut in Japan) in autumn. In this Japanese New Year’s season, it welcomes many tourists for the Kamifusen Festival, or “Giant Balloon” Festival.

This festival is held on February 10th every year during the New Years of Japanese old calendar. There is no record to be found regarding the origination of this traditional event. It has been told that when an Edo scholar, Hiraga Gennai (平賀源内; 1728-1780), had visited the copper mine as a technical advisor, he had shown this game to show the mechanism of hot-air balloon.
The giant balloons made of washi (Japanese paper), with paintings such as worriers (“musha-e”) and beautiful women (“bijin-ga”) and written wishes of local villagers, are lit from within and released to the winter sky.

The event used to be accompanied with another ritual called “mushiyaki” (虫焼き; “Burning Insects”), in which bundles of rice straws are piled on the rice paddies and lit with fire with wishes for rich harvest ("gokoku-hojo",五穀豊穣) and family safety ("kanai-anzen", 家内安全). Today mushiyaki is no longer held, but the essence of traditional culture is still vividly alive.

Kamifusen Festival has been considered as an important cultural heritage of folk religion. The tradition was interrupted during the wartime, but it has come back to life in 1974 by the hands of enthusiastic volunteers in local Kami-hinokinai area. Today it represents the winter tradition of Akita Prefecture.

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