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An Amazing Tradition! Fukuoka's Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival 2023
Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival is held every year in the Hakata district of Fukuoka as the major festival of Kushida Shrine. The floats called yamakasa are paraded around the city and people race carrying the floats. Let's feel the heat of summer with this festival!
Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival, the Pride of Fukuoka
Held in Hakata, Fukuoka city, in July annually, 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 hundreds 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 5 km 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 schedule, access, and highlights are as below.
Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival: 2023 Schedule
In 2023, the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival will be held July 1 - 15 as usual.
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'.
Nagaregaki on Day 3 and Day 7 (July 10 and July 14 from 16:00)
These are display days where each team's yamakasa is toured around its own area.
Asayama on Day 4 (July 11, 5:00 - 6:00)
From the early morning, each yamakasa is toured around its own area.
Tanagaregaki on Day 4 (July 11, 15:00 - 17:30)
Each yamakasa leaves its own area and is displayed to other areas as well.
Oiyama-narashi on Day 5 (July 12 from 15:59)
The rehearsal for oi-yamakasa on the last day. Kakite, or the people carrying the floats, run their fastest for 4 km from Kushida Shine competing with other teams.
Shudan-yamamise on Day 6 (July 13 from 15:30)
All yamakasa floats get together in central Fukuoka. They run the 1.3 km street from Gofukumachi crossing to Tenjin.
Nagaregaki on Day 7 (July 14, 16:00 - 17:00)
The second nagaregaki to prepare for oi-yamakasa on the last day.
Oi-yamakasa on Day 8 (July 15, 4:59)
Accompanied by the sound of Japanese drums, each yamakasa float heads to Kushida Shrine. After they have arrived at Kushida Shrine, the kakite run their fastest through the 5 km of the oi-yamakasa course.
Venues and Access to the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival
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 bullet train (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 the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival
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 when 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 the Festival
There are distinctive rules for the 800-year-old Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival.
Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival Rules
During Hakata Gion Yamakasa, participants cannot eat cucumbers, people in mourning cannot participate, and only men can touch the yamakasa and go to the kakite meetings. These rules are still followed even today.
There have been discussions on the rules regarding women touching or carrying the floats but these rules have not changed. Nevertheless, everyone can enjoy watching Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival from the various viewing spots.
Allow Yourself Enough Time to Get to the Venue
The sixth and eighth days of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival are always extremely busy.
Getting tickets for the viewing seats around Kushida Shrine, called sajikiseki, is very hard as they are sold at Kushida Shrine only on June 26 every year. We recommend you allow yourself enough time to get to the venue one to two hours before the events start if you want to watch it from a good spot.
The citizens of Fukuoka pour their souls into this historic festival every season. Enjoy the energetic and exciting spirit of Hakata with them this summer!
Fukuoka, Fukuoka, Hakata, Kami kawabata machi 1-41 Kushida Shrine and others.
Accepted Credit Cards
JR Hakata Station
15 mins walk from JR Hakata Station
Hakata Gion Yamakasa (Japanese)
*Please note that information on transportation costs and times are subject to change.