A Close-up Look at Hakata Gion Yamakasa
Hakata Gion Yamakasa is the iconic festival of Fukuoka, attracting about one million visitors. The annual event is held in July at Kushida Shrine in the city's Hakata ward, and the celebration gets a huge amount of media coverage nationwide. If you are not fortunate enough to be in town for it, the floats stalls are on display throughout the year.
About the Festival
The Hakata Gion Yamakasa is a ritual related to Kushida Shrine dating back over 700 years. There are many theories and rumors, but It is believed that the festival originated in 1241 when a Buddhist monk splashed holy water around when the Hakata area during a disease epidemic. During the festival, teams from Hakata's seven districts carry one-ton decorated floats called “yamakasa” on their shoulders through the area.
The climax of the festival starts at 4:59am on the last day on July 15th when the first of eight teams (including the main float), sets off on a 4km course around the city carrying their float in a time-trial race which takes about 30 minutes to complete. It is called “Oi-Yamakasa”.
Enjoy the festival throughout the year and make it Instagrammable!
The Yamakasa are divided into “Kazariyama” which can be up to 13 meters tall and are stationary decorations these days, and the smaller “Kakiyama” (about 5 meters high), which are carried through the streets. The former can be found at Kushida Shrine, the nearby Kawabata Shopping Area, and the Kawabata Zenzai Plaza throughout the year except during the festival. These spectacular huge floats are all made by experts; and they are definitely worth posting online!
The Festival Schedule
The festival runs from July 1st to 15th with the following key days:
1st July- Kazariyama go on display
The huge “kazari-Yamakasa” are set up on various street corners in Fukuoka.
12th July- Oiyamanarashi (Start Time- 3:59 p.m.)
A rehearsal of the Oi-Yamakasa in which all the teams runs the entire route in a timed, organized manner compared to the actual performance.
13th July- Shudan Yamamise (Start Time-3:30 p.m.)
A procession of all the floats follows the 1.2 km route from the Gofuku-cho intersection to the town hall at Tenjin, Chuo-area. Local celebrities such as the mayor will appear on the floats!
15th July- Oi-Yamakasa (Start Time- 4:59 a.m.)
At precisely 4:59 a.m., to the rhythm of taiko drums, the first team departs from the shrine carrying its float. The other floats set off at five-minute intevals.
The Shocking Taboo of Hakata Gion Yamakasa- No Cucumber! No Contact with Women!
People are not supposed to eat cucumbers during the Yamakasa period because the cross-section of a cucumber resembles the Japanese quince flowers, the emblem of the Gion festival's deity who is enshrined at Kushida Shrine. Local schools stop serving cucumbers in their school meals too.
In the past, women were not allowed to take part in the Yamakasa to prevent men from touching them! That rule has been abolished now thanks to gender equality. It is also said that people in mourning cannot participate either.
Where to see the Hakata Gion Yamakasa?
The Shudan Yamamise and the Oi-Yamakasa are extremely crowded! It is advisable to arrive in area around Kushida Shrine at least one to to two hours in advance.
There are special boxes with reserved seats at Kushida Shrine during the festival, with tickets only available on 26th June. Needless to say they sell out fast.
How to get to Kushida Shrine
The venue is around the Kushida Shrine. To reach the shrine,
From Fukuoka Airport, take the Kuko Line local train bound for Meinohama, Karatsu or Chikuzen-Fukae to Gion station (8 minutes). From there, it's a 5-minute walk to Kushida Shrine.
- Name：Hakata Gion Yamakasa
- Address：Kushida Shrine, 1-41, Kamikawabata-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka (zip code 812-0026)
- Opening hours：：Kushida Shrine is open from 4:00 a.m. – 10: 00 p.m.
- Wi-Fi： Not available
- Language：Japanese Only