When Rod Walters introduced you to Ikazaki’s Kite Museum, he mentioned the annual Kite Fighting Festival, or Ōdako Gassen, that takes place in this village on Children’s Day (May 5th). So if you’re in Ehime then, make your way to Ikazaki and join the kite flyers or the onlookers on the banks of the Oda River for an eventful day out.
The festival usually kicks off at around ten, with students from the local junior high school challenging each other in some kite fighting. After that, you can enjoy entertainment in the form of dancing or musical performances by students and community members. At noon, everyone focuses their attention on the giant kite. The names of babies who were born in the last year are written on this shusse kite to wish for their success, health and happiness. Conversely, the launch of the kite itself is usually spectacularly unsuccessful. The townspeople often revise their strategies, but from what I’ve seen neither launching it from a crane nor using a pulley system to pull it over the river have proven effective. Maybe you can finally see a design that will make the kite go up!
By this point in the day the aromas of the colorful stalls have probably convinced you to refuel. Try some tasty Japanese festival food, like karaage (fried chicken), or ikayaki (grilled squid on a stick), or udon noodles, or kakigōri (shaved ice with flavored syrup).
In the afternoon the real kite fighting begins. If you want to join a team, check the Uchiko Town International Association website beforehand to see if they’re participating, and contact them for more information. Alternatively, try the Uchiko Tourist Association. The kites used for fighting are 1.65 meters long and 1.35 meters wide. A sharp metal implement known as a gagari is attached to the middle of the kite string to catch and cut the strings of other kites. A lively commentator announces as many of the successful attacks as he can keep track of. Heaven only knows who keeps score and how they do it. If your team is unlucky enough to be cut during a breezy time, you may have to go hunt for your escaped kite among the houses of Ikazaki. As fighting intensifies, keeping kites in the air and out of harm's way, or making a difficult cut may drive some pilots into the river. Keep your camera ready!
Uchiko is about 25 minutes south of Matsuyama on the express train bound for Uwajima. Ikazaki can be reached on foot, but on the day of the festival a free shuttle bus frequently travels between the station and the riverbank. If it rains on May 5th, the event will be held on the following Sunday.
By the way, if you’re lucky enough to have some Japanese friends who have recently welcomed a new baby boy into their home, see if you can garner an invitation around this time of year. The carp streamers known as koinobori are a ubiquitous decoration outside, but inside someone’s home you can see even more traditional Children’s Day decorations. On the day itself you could even be fortunate enough to witness a family photo shoot with a little baby samurai!