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Photo By: PIXTA/ ミポリン&Y
Region
Kyushu
Island
Kyushu
Largest City
Saga
Population
876,664

Karatsu Kunchi Festival

By Jake Yoder

Every fall, thousands of people from all over Japan and the world make their way to Karatsu City for one of Saga Prefecture’s most historic and unique events, Karatsu Kunchi. Held each year from November 2-4 since the 16th century, the festival is a way for locals to celebrate and give thanks for the year and look forward to the next.

Karatsu Kunchi is most notable for its 14 large colorful floats which are paraded around Karatsu throughout the festival. The floats, known as hikiyama in Japanese, were each built by different districts in Karatsu between 1819-1876. Undoubtedly the main attraction of the festival, the floats include sea bream, orcas, lions and giant samurai helmets.

The festival was recognized by Saga Prefecture as a Tangible Cultural Property of Saga in 1955 and was recognized nationally as an Important Cultural Property of Japan in 1980. The festival has garnered international attention, being recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2016.

Yoiyama

Karatsu Kunchi

Photo by: PIXTA/ Daikegoro The current Yoiyama parade has been practiced each year since 1962.

The first day of the festival (November 2), known as Yoiyama, welcomes the festival with a nighttime, lantern-lit march with all 14 hikiyama. The first float begins its march towards Karatsu Shrine around 7:30 p.m. and is slowly joined by each float. Crowds join the floats on their path as they all come together at the shrine, with the nighttime setting and lantern lighting adding a sense of mysticism and magic to the scene. The nighttime parade first began in 1895, though each float would follow a different path. The current Yoiyama parade has been practiced each year since 1962.

Hikikomi

Karatsu Kunchi

Photo by: WikiCommons/ DoctorDoughnut Watch the town come together with a procession of these floats.

On the second day of the festival (November 3), the floats come together for a ceremony known as Hikikomi. All of the floats are gathered together in the morning and carried down to the beach near Nishinohama. Seeing the floats carried through the sand is noted by many as an unforgettable sight.

Town Parade

Karatsu Kunchi

Photo by: PIXTA/ ミポリン&Y Don’t miss out on the largest parade of the festival.

The final day of the festival (November 4) is when the largest parade is held. Representatives from each of Karatsu’s districts come together and dress in traditional clothing to take the floats on an 8km procession throughout the city.

As the parade and the festival come to an end, the people of Karatsu ready themselves for another winter while remembering the blessings of the past year.

Things To Know

HOURS AND FEES

Karatsu Kunchi is held each year from November 2-4 and is free to attend. Hours for certain events vary each day, but there are celebrations from sun-up to sun-down on each day of the festival, with some even celebrating long into the night.

If you happen to miss the festival but still want to see the floats, they are exhibited year-round at the Hikiyama Exhibit Hall.

How To Get There

Address

By train

From Hakata station in Fukuoka, board the Fukuoka City Subway Kuko Line until Chikuzen-Maebaru station. Here, transfer to the JR Chikuhi Line and exit at Karatsu station. 

From Saga station, board the JR Karatsu Line and exit at Karatsu station.

By bus

From Tenjin station in Fukuoka, board a highway bus towards Hodou Pier in Karatsu and exit after six stops at Karatsu Bus Center.

By car

Karatsu is about one hour and fifteen minutes from Saga City and about an hour and a half from Fukuoka by car, without taking toll roads. Toll roads from Saga City and Fukuoka shorten the trip to about an hour but be prepared to pay about ¥1,000 to take them.

Where To Stay

Hotel Karae
  • 1783 Kyomachi, Karatsu-shi, Saga, 847-0045 Japan
  • ¥6,400 - ¥49,140
  • 4.2/5 (101 reviews)
  • 0.2 km
Mizuno Ryokan (Karatsu)
  • 4-50 Higashijonai, Karatsu-shi, Saga, 847-0016 Japan
  • ¥60,500 - ¥80,300
  • 4.67/5 (94 reviews)
  • 1.1 km
Karatsu Seaside Hotel
  • 4-182 Higashikaratsu, Karatsu-shi, Saga, 847-0017 Japan
  • ¥24,530 - ¥102,300
  • 4.49/5 (1,606 reviews)
  • 2.0 km
Ryokan Uohan
  • 1669-55 Hamatamamachi Hamasaki, Karatsu-shi, Saga, 849-5131 Japan
  • ¥16,500 - ¥26,400
  • 4.22/5 (227 reviews)
  • 6.4 km

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