Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival 2013

Video link: http://youtu.be/Y6DMpluPV9k

Here’s my video of the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival (東近江大凧まつり Higashi-Omi Odako Matsuri) held on Sunday, May 26, 2013 in Higashi-Omi. Another one of my ongoing video series with local kids introducing the sights in English. We took three Japanese kids from Higashi-Omi who had never seen the kite festival (neither did their parents). The video also has a few cameo appearances by other local folks.

It was a nice day, somewhat hot under the sun, but cool in the shade with good winds. There were all kinds of kites in the air, many of them quite exotic from around Japan. Didn’t get to see them all though.

They flew the giant kite several times during the morning and afternoon sessions. Watch the video to see how high it flew. The giant kite festival was held at the Fureai Undo Koen Park in Notogawa for the first time this year in 2013 (map here). Since it is closer to Lake Biwa than the old riverside site in Yokaichi, the wind supposed to be better. The former site was also getting narrower with the river widening or eroding.

The new festival site was certainly large enough, but it was still too narrow to fly the big kite. If they could run across the length of the park, it might work. But they pulled the giant kite across the park’s width because the wind was blowing that way. So each time they pulled the giant kite, it went up, but immediately went down when they stopped pulling after running out of ground.

However, compared to the old site and compared to last year’s festival when they had no wind at all, this new site is way better. Videos of the giant kite last year showed that the kite couldn’t even leave the ground. At least it well got off the ground this year.

The new site is also a lot more convenient for people coming from outside Higashi-Omi. JR Notogawa Station is convenient on the Tokaido Line and they had free shuttle buses going to the park. The park had no public parking so they provided designated parking lots some distance away from the park. Too far to walk, so free shuttle buses also ran from the parking lots.

Another major change was the name of the festival. It was formerly called the “Yokaichi Odako Matsuri” until 2011. They changed the name to “Higashi-Omi Odako Matsuri” last year in May 2012. Some people opposed the name change and I feel sorry for people in Yokaichi (central area in Higashi-Omi) for losing a namesake that they’ve known for about 30 years.

The fact is though, the kite festival has a 300-year history. And it was not originally called “Yokaichi Odako Matsuri.” The festival was started by villages in the Yokaichi area that started flying kites for Boy’s Day in May to celebrate the birth of a boy. The villages eventually competed in kite-making and the kites got larger and larger. The kite festival was named after the respective village. When villages merged and got a new municipal name, the name of the kite festival also changed accordingly. So the name of the festival actually changed a number of times. That’s the way it goes when a festival is not held by a shrine or temple.

They build a new giant kite every three years. The kite we saw was three years old and flew for the last time that day. This summer, they will build a new giant kite to be flown for the next three years until 2016. Glad we got to see this kite before it was retired. The artwork is simply awesome. And the meaning too (explained in my video). If you missed it, you can see it displayed at the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Museum (map here) during the next three years.

Also see my video of the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Museum (whose name also changed) with the same three kids at a festival prelude event on May 5, 2013.


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