The Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival is an exciting and high energy summer festival held in Hakata, Fukuoka. The Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival first started in the 13th Century when it is believed according to legend a Buddhist priest was carried aloft, sprinkling holy water on the street to help victims of the plague. The festival is now over 750 years old and attracts up to a million spectators every year. It is Fukuoka’s most anticipated annual festival and a must see festival in Japan
The festival is the main festival of Fukuoka and one of the major festivals of the Kyushu region of Japan. It even has been designated an Important Intangible Folk Culture Property so has a lot of tradition and history attached to it.
Kushida Jinja Shrine, which hosts the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival every summer has a long history and is one of the main shrines of Fukuoka. It is fondly called “Okushida-san” by the locals.
The Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival gives you the chance to see half-naked men in loincloths as well as elaborate festival floats that are truly impressive in size and colour. The festival features two types of floats. One called Kazariyama, which are colourful floats used for display purposes only, and Kakiyama, which are carried in the festival and feature in the climax of the festival.
The decorative Kazariyama Floats are set up for display on the street corners from July 1 and are fun to look at while you stroll through the streets of the city. The 10 meter tall floats are over two tonnes and are decorated with samurai or popular anime characters that are made by master Hakata craftsmen.
The highlight of the festival is the 5 meter tall, one tonne Kakiyama festival floats that are elaborately decorated and feature from July 10. The floats are pulled through the streets of Hakata at full speed creating an electric atmosphere. Practice runs are held from July 10 to 14 for the climax of the festival on July 15.
The climax of the festival is at 4:59 am on July 15 at Kushida Jinja Shrine. It features seven teams of men, representing seven different neighbourhoods of the city converging at Kushida Jinja to race along a 5 km long course carrying the huge one tonne Kakiyama floats on their shoulders. The men pulling the floats compete on the time taken to complete the course while maintaining a graceful and heroic style.
The Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival is one of the most interesting and exciting festivals in Japan that allows you to sample a high speed summer festival in the beautiful cosmopolitan city of Fukuoka.
Location: Kushida Jinja Shrine
Address: 1-41 Kamikawabata-cho, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka City
When: July 1-15
Time: Times vary according to the event with the climax on July 15 at 4:59 am
The festival is held at Kushida Jinja Shrine in the Hakata district of Fukuoka, which is only a 10-15 minute walk from JR Hakata Station. You can reach Fukuoka City and Hakata Station in around 5 hours on the Nozomi Shinkansen from Tokyo and around 2 hours and 30 minutes from Osaka.