I live in Hamamatsu City, the second largest city in Shizuoka Prefecture, which has a population of over 800,000 people. That’s roughly the same number of people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area. What I didn’t know is that Hamamatsu City is biiiiiiig, area-wise. Several smaller towns surrounding the center of Hamamatsu City were absorbed, and so even towns like Mikkabi, which are about an hour away by car, are counted towards the population count of Hamamatsu City. I’d say we’re a small city. Downtown is about two blocks, and we only have one skyscraper. During peak hours, there aren’t that many people out on the streets, and it can get pretty quiet after 8:00 pm, when all the station stores close for the night.
During Golden Week, from May 3rd to May 5th, everything changed. Thousands of people, residents of the city and visitors from across Japan, came to our small city to enjoy the Hamamatsu Festival, or the Hamamatsu Kite-Fighting Festival. The main event takes place at Nakatajima Sand Dunes until around 4:00 pm. After that, everyone floods into the streets of the city to pull their yatai (floats) while cheering and playing music. It was amazing to see my city so alive!
As expected at any festival, there were several food stalls at the main site. We were able to enjoy a variety of dishes, including Hamamatsu Gyoza, chocolate-dipped bananas, mochi cheese balls, etc.
We did a couple of food runs then sat down in the shade to watch the kites flying in the air. Each town of Hamamatsu has its own logo or image to represent itself, which is printed onto their happi coats and kites; and its own yatai (float). You can see the list of each town and their images here. There are over 100 towns in Hamamatsu, which means that over the course of three days, there were over 100 large kites flying and fighting in the air, and over 70 floats being pulled through the city at night. The kite rope is made out of 5-mm hemp. As the ropes become entangled with each other, the friction causes the kite rope to be torn and the kites are brought down to the ground.
Downtown, several other events are also held. For example, live music performances, cultural dance performances, a Miss Hamamatsu contest, a brass band/marching parade, etc. By evening, the floats are being pulled through the streets of downtown and in each of the individual towns. We could hear horns and cheers all through the night. It’s a very festival event and worth checking out next year if you have no plans during Golden Week. The whole city is one big party during the festival, and it was interesting to see my small city transform for these three days.
This post was submitted to the May 2012 J.Festa: Japan in May!