Translated by Kayoko Windle
Fukuoka's Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival 2020 - Canceled Due To COVID-19
Written by Mayu
Held in Hakata, Fukuoka city in July annually, Hakata Gion Yamakasa is the festival of Kushida Shrine. The floats called yamakasa run around the city and people race carrying the floats. Let's feel the heat of summer with this festival! Due to COVID-19, the festivities are canceled in 2020.
What is the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival?
Please note that the Hakata Gion Yamasaka Festival and its events are canceled in 2020 due to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreaks.
Held in Hakata, Fukuoka city, in July annually, the Hakata Gion Yamakasa is the festival of Kushida Shrine. Registered as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage, it originated 800 years ago, when an epidemic was raging in Hakata. A monk prayed to disperse the epidemic while riding on a wooden float and spreading water around the area.
The festival lasts for eight days, during which hundred of energetic men run around Hakata carrying floats called yamakasa. You can see the best part of the festival on the last day, oi-yamakasa. Here, teams of men race over 5km with a yamakasa float starting at 4:59 am. You will surely be overwhelmed by the dynamic way they carry the float.
The passion of Hakata residents for Hakata Gion Yamakasa is so tremendous that some companies even let participants have the day off for the festival. You can truly feel summer has arrived with Hakata Gion Yamakasa this year - the festival 2017 schedule, access, and highlights are as below.
Schedule of Hakata Gion Yamakasa
The Hakata Gion Yamakasa is usually held in July every year. In 2020, the festival is canceled.
There are some unique words exclusive to this festival; carrying the floats around is 'kaku', and the people that carry the floats are called 'kakite'.
This was the schedule for the festival in 2017. It started on Saturday, July 1st before continuing on Sunday, July 9th through Saturday, July 15th. You can only see the moving yamakasa on 6 days from July 10th to 15th. Let's take a closer look at each day of the schedule.
Nagaregaki on Day 3 and Day 7 (July 10th and July 14th from 16:00)
These are display days where each team's yamakasa is toured around its own area.
Asayama on Day 4 (July 11th 5:00 - 6:00)
From the early morning, yamakasa is toured around its own area.
Tanagaregaki on Day 4 (July 11th 15:00-17:30)
Each yamakasa leaves its own area and is displayed to other areas as well.
Oiyama-narashi on Day 5 (July 12th from 15:59)
The rehearsal for oi-yamakasa on the last day. Kakite, or the people carrying the floats, run their fastest for 4km from Kushida Shine competing with other teams.
Shudan-yamamise on Day 6 (July 13th from 15:30)
All yamakasa floats get together in the central Fukuoka. They run the 1.3 km street from Gofukumachi crossing to Tenjin.
Nagaregaki on Day 7 (July 14th 16:00-17:00)
The second nagaregaki to prepare for oi-yamakasa on the last day.
Oi-yamakasa on Day 8 (July 15th 4:59)
By the sound of a big Japanese drum, each yamakasa float heads to Kushida Shrine. After they have arrived at Kushida Shrine, the kakite run their fastest through the 5km of oi-yamakasa course.
The Venue and Access via Train
You can watch the Hakata Gion Yamakasa around Kushida Shrine. Our recommendation is to go from Hakata Station, the closest train station to Kushida Shrine.
Taking the Nozomi shinkansen toward Hakata from Tokyo Station; you can get to Hakata Station without transferring. It takes about five hours, and the fare is 21,810 yen for a non-reserved seat. It is a short 15 minute walk from Hakata Station to Kushida Shrine.
Highlights of Hakata Gion Yamakasa
During the eight days of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa, the shudan-yamamise on day 6 and oi-yamakasa on day 8 are especially enjoyable for visitors. But what are these highlights?
All yamakasa floats assemble at Gofukumachi crossing and head to Fukuoka city hall through Tenjin. You don't want to miss 'dai-agari' where a selection of famous people from Fukuoka, including the Fukuoka city mayor, ride on floats.
On the last day of the festival, all the yamakasa floats enter Kushida Shrine, but the first team's kakite can have a special privilege; the song of 'Hakata iwai uta (or the Hakata celebrating song)'. The song is a very special song in Hakata to be sung only in celebratory situations, so you won't usually get to hear it. It's a great opportunity to hear this song at the festival.
It is said that young and beginner kakite cannot carry yamakasa float for oi-yamakasa, the climax of the festival. Therefore, only veteran kakite are in charge of carrying yamakasa-float on the day, showing their sophisticated running techniques. Blink and you'll miss their specially trained techniques and dynamic carrying and running.
A Kazari-yama is a dedicated yamakasa displayed around Hakata. It is 10-15 meters tall. Fukuoka always gets festive as soon as the 14 kazari-yama are displayed around Kushida Shrine every year. Even if you cannot make it to the festival period this year, don't worry, you can still see the kazari-yama in the Kushida Shrine area and the Kawabata Zenzai Hiroba on the Kawabata market street all year round, even after the festival.
What to Be Aware of During Hakata Gion Yamakasa
There are distinctive rules for the 800-year-old Hakata Gion Yamakasa.
Distinctive Rules for Hakata Gion Yamakasa
During Hakata Gion Yamakasa, participants cannot eat cucumbers, people in mourning cannot participate, and only men can touch yamakasa and go to the kakite meetings. These rules are still followed even today. The rules regarding women touching or carrying the floats has been discussed recently, but have not been changed. However, everyone can enjoy watching Hakata Gion Yamakasa from its various viewing spots.
Allow Yourself Enough Time to Get to the Venue
During Hakata Gion Yamakasa, day 6 for shudan-yamamise and day 8 for oi-yamakasa will be extremely busy. Getting the tickets for the viewing seats set around Kushida Shrine, called sajikiseki, is very hard as they are only on sale at Kushida Shrine on June 26th every year. We recommend you allow yourself enough time to get to the venue 1 to 2 hours before the events start if you want to watch the event from a good spot.
People all around Fukuoka pour their hearts and souls into the festival every season. Let's feel the energetic and exciting spirit of Hakata this coming summer.
|Address||Fukuoka, Fukuoka, Hakata, Kami kawabata machi 1-41 Kushida Shrine and others.|
|Accepted Credit Cards||Not Available|
|Nearest station||JR Hakata Station|
|Access||15 mins walk from JR Hakata Station|
|Website||Hakata Gion Yamakasa (Japanese)|
*Please note that information on transportation costs and times are subject to change. The festival is canceled in 2020.