Delight in two fascinating major festivals; Hakata Gion Yamakasa and Hakata Dontaku2017.04.01
Of all the famous festivals held in Fukuoka, “Hakata Gion Yamakasa” and “Hakata Dontaku” are the ones not to be missed. During these times, the whole city is alive with excitement, attracting a large crowd of visitors of not only local people, but also tourists. Here is some further information to help you get the most out of these events, including what makes them special, schedules, highlights and points of interest.
【What is Hakata Gion Yamakasa? 】
Hakata Gion Yamakasa centers around a dedication ritual to the god of the Kushida Shrine that takes place from the 1st to 15th of July every year. With a history of over 700 years, its origin goes back to 1241 when a plague swept through Hakata, and a monk named Shouichikokushi, who was the founding priest of the Shotenji Temple, sprinkled holy water to purify the city and keep the plague away (there are various theories for its origin).
Various decorative Yamakasa floats, known as Kazariyama, are displayed at 14 locations around the city for public viewing. Each Kazariyama has a front and a back end, featuring different themed decorations. For the back (Miokuri), which faces away from the shrine, popular cartoon characters are often used.
Even though Kazari Yamakasa is over after the festival season, select Kazariyamas remain on display in the precinct of Kushida Shrine and Kawabata Zenzai Square, where they can be admired anytime outside of the festival season. Kakiyamakasa, a float for racing, is also displayed at Fukuoka Airport, so that it can be seen anytime.
While Kazariyama is a “static” event that allows people to appreciate the craftsmanship of these decorative floats, Kakiyamakasa offers a truly “dynamic” and energetic dimension to the festival. There are seven different Nagares (racing teams); Daikoku, Higashi, Nakasu, Nishi, Chiyo, Ebisu, and Doi, each carrying a Kakiyama float of their own style. The dolls placed on top of the floats are created with different themes every year, which is one of the points of interest. Many of the awesome and spectacular dolls illustrate various historical or legendary tales, such as famous Japanese military commanders (samurai), the heroes of Sanguozhi (the Records of the Three Kingdoms) and the Seven Deities of Good Luck.
Finally, the Hakata Gion Yamakasa reaches a climax with the final race known as “Oiyamakasa”. It is the finale of the festival, and the seven Nagares of Kakiyama together with Kamikawabata-dori’s yamakasa, which is the only “active” Kazariyama float, race at full speed through the city.
The speed of those heavy Kakiyama floats and men’s strong voices shouting the traditional chant are among the main highlights of the festival. The goal of the float race, Suzaki-machi; also known as the Mawaridome, is an excellent place to go to experience the real excitement of Yamakasa when the floats kick into high gear and the shouts of the men reach fever pitch.
Check out the official website for the schedule and race course, to get the most out of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival.
▼Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival 2017 Information
Date: July 1st (Sat) to 15th (Sat), 2017
Location: Throughout Fukuoka City, [Kushida Shrine] 1-41, Kamikawabata-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
Tel: 092-291-2951 (Hakata Gion Yamakasa Promotion Association)
Access: 5 minute walk from Nakasu-kawabata subway station
【What is the Hakata Dontaku?】
“The Festival of the People of Fukuoka; Hakata Dontaku Minato Festival” is held on May 3rd and 4th every year during the so-called Golden Week (a series of national holidays). It is the largest festival in Japan and attracts over 2 million visitors.Its origin may date back to the event called “Hakata Matsubayashi,” which has over 800 years of related history. Although the Hakata Matsuribayashi parade was suspended in 1872, it resumed in 1879 under the name of Hakata Dontaku. The name, “Dontaku” is said to be derived from the Dutch word, “Zondag” meaning “Sunday” or “a holiday”. The main attraction of the festival is the various stage performances at 30 different locations around the city and a large-scale parade by “Dontaku-tai” group. The whole city comes to life and is filled with joy during this period.
The Dontaku parade on May 3rd and 4th starts with the Hakata Matsuribayashi which is the origin of the festival. The Hakata Matsubayashi is a colorful procession led by three gods of fortune riding on horseback; Fuku-no-kami (the god of long life), Ebisu (the god of business) and Daikoku (the god of wealth), parade through the city in celebration.
Kasaboko are umbrella-shaped decorations that are displayed during this event. It is said that you will stay healthy if you walk under an umbrella
During the Dontaku season, you can see some customs unique to the festival, for example dressing in inside-out haori coats called “surase” is regarded as chic and stylish. The dance while clapping shamoji (wooden rice spoons) is also known as a feature typical to the Dontaku. According to a legend, it started when the wife of a merchant family who was preparing a meal, heard the festive sound of flutes and drums passing on the street and dashed out to join the parade holding the shamoji.
During this event, the big parade of Dontaku-tai begins with fireworks at Dontaku Square in the afternoon; this is the signal to announce the start of the parade, which is a spectacular event involving over 20,000 people!
The final feature of Hakata Dontaku Festival is the grand mass dance (“So-Odori”), which is held in the evening of the last day. Everyone is welcome! So, why not visit Dontaku Square to join in? Clap the wooden rice spoons and let’s all dance together!
▼Hakata Dontaku Minato Festival 2017 Information
Date: May 3rd (Wed, Holiday), 4th (Thu, Holiday)
Location: Throughout Fukuoka City, JR Hakata Station Plaza, Dontaku Square (Meiji Dori Avenue, from Gofukumachi intersection to Fukuoka City Hall)
Tel: 092-441-1170 (Fukuoka Citizen’s Festival Promotion Association; from Jan. 15 to June 15) 092-441-1118 (Fukuoka Chamber of Trade and Commerce; outside the period specified above)