Hakata Gion Yamakasa
A unique Fukuoka spectacle.
The idea of yamakasa has roots that can be traced back 750 years, when Shoichi Kokushi, a Shinto Buddhist priest, lived in a town that was faced with a deadly epidemic. In order to remedy this problem, he chose to be carried through the streets on a float while sprinkling holy water on residents.
Running through five kilometres of Fukuoka City, each of the seven teams representing the seven districts are pitted against each other in an intense race watched by crowds from all over. The floats that you see the teams carrying are known as kakiyama floats – they stand 5 metres tall and weigh a ton. Since they don’t have wheels, water is splashed in front of the participants as they run as a way of reducing the friction between the road and the undersurface of the float.
The other type of float you’ll see is known as the kazariyama float. Over 10 meters tall and weighing more than two tons, these floats remain stationary and are intended to be for viewing only.
The first event, the oshiotori ceremony, is held on the 1st of July at Hakozaki Shrine, during which representatives from the teams run towards the beach and fetch sand that is then sprinkled at the entrances of their houses for good luck. They also purify themselves with the saltwater from the beach before running back to their floats.
Between the conclusion of the oshiotori and the final race, various rehearsals for the grand finale are held. The final race is held on July 15th but you can watch any of the practice runs held between the 10th and the 14th – some of which take place along the final route.
At 4:59AM on the 15th, teams will depart from the Kushida Shrine. Because the festival is so well-known amongst the locals, be sure to show up a little earlier to guarantee yourself a good viewing spot.