The main reason I’d planned my trip to Fukuoka was to see the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival which was planned for the 15th July. The floats started arriving at the start line early in the morning at 1AM with the case starting at 4.59AM. I decided to get up at just after 4 to give me some time to get down there; I thought, who else is going to be getting up this early to see the event?
As it turned out, a lot of people had woken early and there were lots of people en route as I headed to the race and it was packed when I arrived. The good thing for me in Japan has been that I generally tower over the majority of the population which means even though I was towards the back, a carefully selected spot actually gave me a good view.
The aim of the race was to carry a 1 ton float on a course through the city and there were 7 eats who would depart at 5 minute intervals. The float had 3 men sat on it, guiding it and then pushers and pullers. Everyone was in traditional dress with a shirt, loincloth and long socks with split toed shoes.
When the race started, I couldn’t believe the sheer number of people participating – It ranged from the very young to the very old; it was impressive to see the old guys still running around! And whilst there was the core team moving the float there were hundreds in each team supporting and chanting as well as throwing buckets of water to cool the team down. It was an extremely impressive feat!
Traditionally, the floats had been much much taller but due to power lines in the city, the height of the floats were decreased. I’d seen several of these bigger floats around the city though in places like Canal City, Hakata train station and bigger malls. After the main teams though, they let the huge crowds flock forwards and there was a mini race/procession with one of the bigger floats.
At one point the float seemed to be set down and then there were the wails of ambulance sirens and I wondered what had happened, it appeared everyone was fine though and they just needed to let the ambulance through. After this, the float started moving again; another part to the tower extended out the top and then a flag came out of that which was awesome to see. There was then smoke and the float moved on it’s way.
Although generally the trip to Fukuoka hadn’t been great with a noisy, expensive hostel – this festival had definitely made it worthwhile.