On the last Sunday in May, there is a big kite festival in Yokaichi, Shiga, famous for its massive, 100 tatami mat sized kite.
The two reviews I found online gave me a mixed idea of what to expect. One especially terse report gave me the impression that the whole day, from 9am until 4pm, was a long wait to see if the big kite could make it up. I almost decided not to go.
Alien Times rekindled my interest. Describing the festival as similar to an American style event, a sprawling, relaxed affair on the shorn banks of river, with a lot of kite flying action. As you can see below, the description was pretty accurate, down to the Bluegrass band belting out their acoustic tunes.
I arrived at 11:30. Coming from Yokaichi station via the free shuttle bus (love you, Japan), and wandered through long lines of marquees, each proudly displaying a team’s kite outside, while yakiniku picnics were occurring inside (need meat for the grueling kiting to come).
I meandered a little, watching some people flying smaller kites and impaling my croc-clad feet on the sharp ends of mown grass.
I was having fun lazily wandering and only noticed the thick line of spectators in the distance belatedly. With minutes to spare I arrived to see the main event in late stages of preparation.
Note the large red fans in the bottom left corner? They are hardworking Wind Goddesses, much in need that still day. I elbowed a young Japanese man in the chest in my hurry to change lenses, and made a kite-watching friend, along with the French couple he was chaperoning. A gent with mini-cannon sized lenses hanging off him like banana bunches joined in the conversation while we waited and the Wind Goddesses flapped, hoping for a breath of wind to come.
And then it did
Well, first flight jitters. They started to set the kite up again with remarkable speed.
Which is how fast the whole thing moved when the wind finally lifted it again.
I get the impression that kites this big don’t really fly far, or for long, so I was pretty chuffed to see it get even 5 seconds of air time. So too were the organisers, and the kite was moved off-side until its 2:30pm showing, to allow for the smaller big kites to compete.
I left the big kites and walked back up the dusty length of field, trying to take shots that didn’t have too many other photographers in them. The Bluegrass had been replaced by a pair of chatty hosts talking about a hardcore group had driven up from Kagoshima prefecture, aka as far south as you can drive in Japan. I was amazed that the Japanese guy and his French friends had come up from Kobe for the day, let alone the day trip required from the bottom of Kyushu.
But then again, I wasn’t flying a kite.
It was an awesome day. One of those days best spent either alone or with another photo fiend.
I joined the speedy line waiting for the free bus (Japan, you’re awesome), and on the ride back noticed that the famous kite museum in Higashi-Omi (which used to be called Yokaichi city, and the station, confusingly, is still called Yokaichi), had free entry for the festival. Unfortunately, I had no energy remaining, and had probably seen enough kites for one day.
Til next time, Yokaichi.