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July 01: The Festival Begins! Yamakasa’s Grand Opening

Yamakasa-NaviWhat is this Yamakasa?July 01: The Festival Begins! Yamakasa’s Grand Opening

July 01: The Festival Begins! Yamakasa’s Grand Opening

The festival officially opens!

It’s officially open! From 5 am this morning, after having their tools blessed, the Yamakasa volunteers were out in the streets of old Hakata town putting up leaves and marking out the course of the Oiyama race.

This is the goal for the Oiyama / main Yamakasa race! It’s near the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Nakasu.

Most of these branches mark turns in the course & major intersections.

It’s not too conspicuous but leaves are attached to power poles around Hakata.

I woke up this morning to the radio announcing the display of 17 Kazariyama (tall, richly decorated floats that once upon a time were carried through the streets, now used just for display) all around Hakata city and beyond. These beautiful decorations that we’ve seen put up are marked out in most guidebooks, but here’s some of the displays I spied on my outing on the 1st:

I picked up a nice one and my next order of business is to go through and translate some of it, to give you a general idea of what’s going on all of this and next week.

Lucky for me, the festival stays pretty quiet until the 9th of july, when some more blessings happen and teams begin running their Kakiyama (the 1-ton, comparatively smaller richly decorated floats that will be carried by competitors on the famous 5km dash through Hakata city – oiyama) through different parts of town as a sort of preliminary.


The Kazariyama at Hakata Station!
You must have seen this around if you’re transiting in and out of town. It’s outside the Hakata Gate, right under the fancy new curvy thing that adorns the front of the station. 


There were quite a few people taking photos.
Lots of parents took their kids (or the other way around) to take a closer look, too. Every Kazariyama’s display is taken from themes in Japanese history, legend or mythology. Each year the general concept is decided by each team and, together with a master craftsman, realised over the months leading up to the Hakata Yamakasa festival.


Panorama shot! These guys look pretty happy with themselves. This is the Gokusho area’s Kazariyama, the one belonging to the Higashi Nagare / East Stream where my work is. There’s progress shots for it in one of my earlier entries. 🙂


This is in the Kawabata Arcade.
On the day of opening, there were neat rows of chairs set out in front of each town’s Kazariyama. They had Long Happi-clad participants from that town hanging around nearby, probably to keep an eye on things or answer questions.

There were pamphlets out too – a big broadsheet with a map of the race and localities and stuff, and a little magazine which I picked up which has a nice intro, details of events and a list of restaurants that are good in Hakata (smooth tie-in, guys!). I’ll be translating this latter for a nice rundown of what’s going down next week.


Kakiyama on display. Doi-Nagare!
This smaler float is the thing that will actually be carried on the backs of 20-32 men across town. There’s even LOOPS in the course. Man seated on the right looked pretty chilled about it all though.

Found another one! This one is the “River Rain” one.
Near the bridges to Nakasu, on Showa Doori at the end of Kawabata Arcade. Seems a pensioner group had an outing to see this one. Each Kazariyama is labelled with a diagram and explanations for the story behind its images.

Some details from River Rain’s Kazariyama
The way they manage to cover 100% of the float is amazing… though if you look close the materials look kind of light, the amount of detail and effort that goes in to these is amazing. Imagine coming up with these every year…

Daikoku’s parking lot…??
That’s one way to call it. This marquee-type thing marks the spot of the Daikoku Nagare / Stream’s Kakiyama. Though the Kazariyama are on display, the Kakiyama will be coming out later on. One Yamakasa event will take each team on a winding journey through virtually all of their own townships to display the Kakiyama. The longest is programmed to take 2 hours….?? How can these guys take it?

Spotting some Gentlemen About Town…

The Kazariyama are exciting and fun to follow around town with a treasure map (try it sometime if you have a day and you’re up for a bit of a walk! Quite a lot of them are bunched together for your convenience 🙂 it’s a good thing old Hakata was a small town…). But the most exciting thing for me to see on the 1st was the sudden abundance of Long Happi clad fellows doing normal things on the streets of Hakata. I got a bit espionage with it all; here’s some places were I’ve spied them:

Commuting by bike…


Waiting at the pedestrian crossing…


Hosing down a rubbish bin…


Crossing at the pedestrian crossing…


On an outing with grandma…


Busy at the office…


Just chillin’.


Don’t these guys rock? 😀

If you want to know more about the outfits you can read about them one entry back… the office dude is actually our boss. 🙂 For the duration of the festival, these outfits are more formal than double-breasted penguin tuxedoes. You can attend marriages, funerals, state visits and everything in them. Not that you will, as for the duration of the festival you’ll be busy lugging bits of wood and sand around and getting things blessed, being yelled at by superiors and drinking sacremental sake. All in preparation for carrying a great, big giant float around town again, and again, and again….

Isn’t it a fun life? Ask any participant and of course they’ll tell you they’d pay for the honour of being part of the festival. You need to be born in Hakata or have some connections to it, though, it’s a pretty exclusive gig. Also my boss tells me they actually DO pay for the honour: in charitable donations to the festival trust to ensure the Kazariyama are always sparkling and the Shinto Priests always timely with their blessings.


Such is the festival life!

Try it yourself, see how many Long Happi wearing dudes you can spot and what interesting things you can catch them getting up to. My favourite was a group of them chilling in a coffee shop… the photo was blurry though. Minus points if they’re gathered to do something clearly festival-related; bonus points for the most everyday looking activities.

Of course, if you’re doing it on a cameraphone / camera / IPHONE bought in japan, you won’t be able to turn the “CLICK” noise off on your camera….. it’s to stop the up-skirt sneak shot perverts from doing their thing. Scary world isn’t it? At least your wallet will always come back to you with money in it. 🙂

Just to remind you again, you will only be seeing buttcheeks (aka sumo undies and proper festival wear) if the men are about to / have just finished carrying Kakiyama around, or are partaking in some festival activity. So don’t be alarmed, you won’t find yourself in any awkward situations on public transport or anything. On the downside (until you’re used to it, anyway) when you see one, you’ll probably see hundreds in the same place….


I’ll be back soon with a round-up of all the events coming up in the festival. If you’re curious and read a bit of Japanese, I’ll be sourcing my info from a page our company runs: http://de.hakata-yamakasa.net/. The timetable of events is on the right, and so is a list of all the Nagare/Streams and where you’ll find their Kakiyama & Kazariyama.

Until then, adieu! Happy happi-snapping!



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