Seven portable shrines dash through the streets of Hakata town in the Yamakasa festival.

Let me introduce you to the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival, a traditional event with a history of over 770 years that takes place in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture, spanning from July 1st to July 15th each year.

Although this year’s festivities have already concluded, every year in Hakata, men don loincloths and carry portable shrines, dousing them with water.

The Hakata Gion Yamakasa is one of the Gion festivals, dedicated to the Gion Shrine, and has developed as a contribution to the Gion festival. It holds the status of an important intangible folk cultural asset of the country.

To begin, the festival opens with lavish and splendidly decorated floats. A total of 14 types of floats are put on public display. From July 1st to 9th, there’s no procession of the portable shrines or floats, but it’s a good opportunity to wander through the streets of Hakata, admiring these luxurious floats that reach a height of about 32 feet. However, as seeing all the floats might require a bit of distance, please feel free to inquire for guidance.

From July 10th, the festival shifts from a “calm” to a “dynamic” phase, as the carrying of the floats, known as “Yamakasa,” commences. While in typical festivals, one would say “carrying the portable shrine,” in the case of the Hakata Yamakasa, they express it as “carrying the Yamakasa.” On the first day, it’s advisable to give up any thought of keeping up, as the men in loincloths are highly motivated, and the speed of the shrine procession is exceptionally fast.

July 11th starts early at 5 a.m., with the echoes of “Osshoi!” and “Oisa!” resounding through the streets of Hakata.

July 12th marks the climax with a rehearsal. Although it’s called a rehearsal, the men approach it with the same seriousness, aiming to dash through as quickly as possible. There are prime viewing spots for this rehearsal as well, so please don’t hesitate to inquire.

On July 13th, starting at 3 p.m., the firing of fireworks serves as a signal for the drums and the seven carried shrines (portable shrines) to offer their respects.

And the final climax of the 15-day festival occurs around 2 a.m. on July 15th. The seven shrines, led by the first one, gather in front of the Kushida Shrine. Accompanied by the beat of drums, at 4:59 a.m., the first shrine, followed by the second, the third, and so on, departs one by one, dashing through the streets of Hakata, covering a distance of 3.4 miles in just 20 minutes. This is a magnificent and awe-inspiring event. There are recommended spots for witnessing this, so let’s share this tension, power, excitement, and emotion together.

While there may not be food stalls, yukata-clad participants, or dancing, there’s still plenty to enjoy.

The Hakata Gion Yamakasa spans a lengthy period, allowing for different perspectives on events and potential events that might be overlooked. You can also create an itinerary that lets you enjoy the festival without a guide. Please don’t hesitate to inquire about various possibilities.

Next, Next, we will introduce autumn festivals held in northern Kyushu.