Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival

Elaborate Floats and Charging Loin-Cloth Clad Men: The Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival


japan is known for its rich cultural heritage and vibrant festivals, and one of the most thrilling festivals in the country is the Hakata Gion Yamakasa. This festival takes place in Hakata, a district in Fukuoka, and features men in traditional costumes racing through the streets with elaborately decorated one-ton floats called yamakasa. This festival, steeped in history and vibrant atmosphere, attracts millions of visitors each year. In this article, we will delve into the details of the festival, from its origins to its significance, and provide a guide on how to experience this exhilarating event.

Don’t Miss: A Spectacle Like No Other

The Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival is a spectacle like no other, and there are a few things you shouldn’t miss if you’re planning to attend. First and foremost, make sure to grab a great spot for watching the festival. The race course covers much of the Hakata area, so finding a strategic location will allow you to witness the floats and their teams approaching from a distance. Additionally, aside from the main race, there are smaller events that run for two weeks prior to the race. These events provide a deeper insight into the festival and allow visitors to immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere. Lastly, keep your eyes peeled for the different colored headbands worn by the participants. These headbands serve as a distinguishing feature and signify the different roles of the festival’s participants.

How to Get There: Exploring Hakata

The festival takes place throughout the Hakata area, which is located in Fukuoka. Fukuoka can be easily reached by shinkansen from major cities throughout Japan, making it convenient for visitors to attend the festival. Once in Fukuoka, the best way to get around is by using the subway, which provides easy access to various parts of the city. Additionally, there are local buses and trains available for transportation within Fukuoka. With its efficient public transportation system, getting to Hakata and exploring the city is a breeze.

Two Million Visitors: The Thrill of the Festival

The Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival attracts nearly two million visitors each year, making it one of Japan’s most popular and exciting festivals. Teams of men race the yamakasa, which are vibrantly decorated one-ton floats. The festival is centered around the Kushida-jinja Shrine, where the floats are displayed prior to the race. The sheer scale of the festival, coupled with the adrenaline-pumping race, creates an electrifying atmosphere that captivates both locals and tourists alike.

The Elaborate Floats: A Feast for the Eyes

The yamakasa floats used in the festival come in two categories. The colorful decorative floats, known as kazariyamakasa, are displayed around Fukuoka City from July 1. These floats are more than 10 meters tall and are adorned with lifelike figurines of samurai or popular anime characters. The attention to detail and craftsmanship displayed in these floats is truly remarkable. On the other hand, the floats that are raced in the festival are known as kakiyamakasa. These floats are equally impressive, with their massive size and intricate decorations. The floats are made by the teams with the expertise of master Hakata doll makers, ensuring that each float is a work of art in its own right.

Where to Watch: The Best Spots

While the festival is concentrated around the Kushida-jinja Shrine, there are several spots in Hakata that offer excellent views of the floats and the race. The intersection of Higashimachi-suji and Meiji-dori is a great spot to watch the floats and their teams approaching from a distance. This vantage point allows you to witness the floats in all their glory as they make their way through the streets. Another recommended spot is the intersection of Showa-dori Street and Taihaku-dori Street. Here, each float can be seen twice as they race down the parallel streets, providing a unique perspective on the festival. Finding the perfect spot to watch the festival will enhance your experience and allow you to fully appreciate the grandeur of the event.

The Start: A Series of Events

The festival kicks off with a series of events that take place from July 10. During this time, the kakiyamakasa racing floats are carried across the city, leading up to the main race event called Oiyama, which takes place on July 15. At 4:59 a.m., drums signal the start of the race, and the first float sets off along a five-kilometer course. The race is a true test of skill and endurance, as it takes the fastest teams around thirty minutes to complete the course. The teams are judged on both speed and style, and they are required to look graceful and heroic as they run with the floats on their shoulders. The main race is the highlight of the festival, and witnessing the start of the race is an exhilarating experience.

The Teams: Representing Historic Districts

Seven teams compete in the race, each one representing a historic district of Hakata. These districts include Higashi, Nakasu, Nishi, Chiyo, Ebisu, Doi, and Daikoku. Each team spends several months in the lead-up to the festival preparing their float and practicing for the race. The dedication and teamwork displayed by these teams are truly commendable. The participants of the festival wear colored headbands, known as tenugui, which help distinguish their roles. The red headband designates runners whose responsibility is to carry the float, while the red and white headband designates elders responsible for planning and logistics. Lastly, the blue and white headband designates elders responsible for the health and safety of the entire operation. The teams work together seamlessly to ensure the success of the festival and create a memorable experience for all.

The Strategy: Carrying the Floats

Carrying the yamakasa floats is no easy task, and the teams employ a strategic approach to ensure a smooth race. Around 30 runners carry the float at any one time, while others run in front, at the back, or along the sides of the float. Two dai-agari, or float directors, ride atop the float and direct the runners. They use a red baton known as a teppou to point out individual runners who should swap with fresh runners. The weight of the float takes a toll on the carriers, and even the strongest runners do not usually last longer than three or four minutes before swapping with a better-rested runner. The synchronization and coordination required to carry the floats effectively highlight the teamwork and determination of the participants.

The History: A Tradition Spanning Centuries

The history of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival can be traced back almost 800 years to a Buddhist priest named Shoichi Kokushi. During a time when an epidemic was spreading across the city, Kokushi, eager to prevent the disease from spreading, was carried on a platform around the town, praying and sprinkling holy water. This religious ceremony was held annually by the people of Hakata to prevent the disease from returning and gradually evolved into the Yamakasa festival we see today. The festival has deep roots in the local community and serves as a reminder of the city’s resilience and unity in the face of adversity.

The Course: From Start to Finish

The main race course starts next to the Kushida-jinja Shrine and finishes behind the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum. The route winds through the streets of Hakata, with the corners becoming the focal point for the racing action. As the heavy floats are swung around the sharp corners, a great groan can be heard, adding to the excitement of the race. Spectators play an active role in the race, throwing water at the participants to keep them cool as they navigate the course. The floats are staggered and leave Kushida-jinja Shrine every five minutes, ensuring a continuous flow of action throughout the race. The racing ends shortly after 6 a.m., marking the culmination of an exhilarating and captivating event.

A Curious Tradition: Cucumbers and Gion-sama

One curious tradition associated with the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival is the refrain from eating cucumber over the festive period. This tradition stems from the cross-section of a cucumber resembling the emblem of the festival’s deity, Gion-sama, who is enshrined at the Kushida-jinja Shrine. Participants and many residents of Hakata adhere to this tradition as a sign of respect and reverence for the festival’s spiritual significance.


The Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival is a true testament to Japan’s rich cultural heritage and the spirit of its people. The elaborate floats, the adrenaline-pumping race, and the vibrant atmosphere make this festival a must-see for anyone visiting Hakata. From the origins of the festival to the intricacies of the race, there is much to learn and appreciate about this centuries-old tradition. Attending the festival and witnessing the dedication and teamwork of the participants is an experience that will leave a lasting impression. So, if you find yourself in Hakata in mid-July, make sure to grab a seat and immerse yourself in the history and excitement of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival.

Address And Maps Location:

1-41 Kamikawabata-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka-ken

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