The Karatsu Kunchi Matsuri is a spectacular autumn cultural festival that takes place in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture in the north western corner of Kyushu. The city of Karatsu is famous for its world renowned pottery that takes it influences from Korea. Karatsu comes alive every autumn for the festival, which dates from 1592 and is designated a festival of National Cultural Importance.
The Karatsu Kunchi Matsuri is over 400 years old, and can trace its roots back to the 16th century. It is held at Karatsu Jinja Shrine every year from November 2 – 4 and is considered to be one of the major festivals of the Kyushu area.
The highlight of the festival is the massive, exquisitely decorated festival floats called hikiyama. The floats are made of wood, washi paper, and clay, which is then lacquered and covered in gold or silver leaf. Each float is a masterpiece and takes between two and three years to complete. The fourteen hikiyama festival floats are made in the form of samurai helmets, sea bream, lions, mythical dragons and other fantastical creatures. The beautifully crafted floats are deservingly described as being artistic masterpieces, and it’s not hard to see why after taking one look at them.
The festival floats stand between five and six meters tall, and weigh anywhere between two to five tonnes. The original floats from the 16th century are sadly no longer with us with the current incarnation of the floats dating from between 1819 and 1876. The huge floats are pulled through the streets of Karatsu by teams of participants selected from families living in the fourteen traditional neighbourhoods of Karatsu. The festival floats are accompanied by much merriment along with traditional Japanese music featuring taiko drums and flutes.
You can see the festival floats all year round at the Hikiyama Float Exhibition Hall next to Karatsu Jinja Shrine. They are fascinating to look at, but there is nothing better than seeing them being pulled through the streets on a festival day.
The first day of the festival also features Yoiyama, where the fourteen festival floats are decorated with lanterns and are paraded at night though the streets of Karatsu, creating a magical scene.
Another highlight of the festival is the Otabisho Shinko, which takes place on the second day of the festival. The massive floats are powerfully pulled through the sand along Nishinohama Beach in Karatsu making for a breath-taking spectacle.
The Karatsu Kunchi Matsuri is one of Japan’s most spectacular autumn cultural festivals and highlights the wonderful festival culture of Japan.
Location: Karatsu, Saga Prefecture
When: November 2-4
Time: Varies according to the event
From Tokyo or Osaka take the Nozomi Shinkansen to Hakata Station in Fukuoka City. Karatsu Station is about 80 minutes from Hakata Station on the Kuko (Airport) line on the Fukuoka City Subway or JR Chikuhi Line.