Sanjo Kite Festival

After we experienced Shirone kite festival for three full days, we decided to check out the Sanjo and Mitsuke rokkaku battles.
We arrived early in the morning at Sanjo, as their festival begins at 9AM. It too is held on the banks of a river; however the fighting is done all on one side of the river on a grassy field, rather than across the river.

Teams of 5-10 people engage in the kite fighting. The teams have different happi coats to identify them. One person on the team carries a basket for the flying line. The kite is actually managed and flown by one flyer. The kites are smaller than the Shirone rokkakus, only 1.5 meters high. The spectators are above the field along a pathway, and at the end of the field, where the kite teams have their tents.
The rules were very organized, in a way “polite” compared to Shirone. There were markers on the field and teams progressed through them as they battled for points. Here the object is to cut a kite down by sawing through the line, or knocking it down to the ground. There was good team spirit on the field, and excellent flyers compared to the Shirone “all out” volume approach. But because the field was only the competitors, it seemed tame. Clearly kite battles are a spectator sport in Sanjo. It was still fun to watch.
There was an all women’s rokkaku team on the field, which was great to see after all men’s teams. Their happi coats had a graphic design for the fire department on them.
Then we ran into Yoshi, who we last saw in Tokyo 4 weeks earlier!! What a surprise.


Later we traveled down the road to Mitsuke and arrived during the lunch break which was like a big tailgate party. Food barbecued everywhere and passed around. By 1 PM the lunch was packed away and the kites appeared.
We were pleasantly surprised to find the rokkakus much larger, about 12 feet or so. The battle takes place across a river and the two sides battle each other as in Shirone, but it is teams again that occupy the banks and river bed who do all the flying. Spectators are kept separate in viewing stands that are concrete, with beautiful kite mosaics next to them. There was concern for safety here, as the previous day an accident happened to a spectator. Like Shirone there was a street fair and vendors.

Just last year the rules had been changed and a cutter added to the flying line to make it easier to cut down the kites.
Unfortunately the winds were light so there wasn’t much flying. We packed up and returned to Shirone where the real action was. Seems that Shirone being closer to the ocean gets much more wind, and can fly much larger kites.
The people of Niigata are really wonderful and friendly. We made plans to return for the festival in 2002..See you there.

Very Large Line Walking tools for large rokkakus
Mitsuke Festival Poster