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July 12: Oiyama Narashi!

Yamakasa-NaviWhat is this Yamakasa?July 12: Oiyama Narashi!

July 12: Oiyama Narashi!

The big practise run! Time to practise running…

It was a fine and sunny day for the Oiyama Narashi. After following the Yamakasa around for a few practise runs it was a strange feeling to now see tour groups, old people with cameras and proper news reporters and camera crews camped out around the place. It made me feel kind of sad… not only can you not take as many nice pictures with lots of gawkers standing around, but you get to see less and less of the real spirit of the Yamakasa as the crowds build. Instead of absorbing the atmosphere of the festival you’re absorbing the atmosphere of a couple of hundred tourists vying for the best seats on the side of the road. That’s the deal though; in exchange this culture gets broadcast all over Japan and lots of people come to Fukuoka to eat Ramen and buy Fundoshi and that. I know.

But I digress! (I still haven’t forgiven those old ladies for laying their fans out and taking all the good seats at Kushida…)

The day of the Oiyama Narashi is a bit of a special run, because all 7 Kakiyama run nearly the entirity of the Oiyama run. They come into Kushida, do the loop and instead of stopping and starting to practise legs they’ll be running the full way. It’s the first day the public really gets involved, too, so there’s a feeling of finally presenting all their hard work for this year to the people of Hakata & Fukuoka, audiences old and new. Also note how until now most of the running courses have been unmarked; only the Nagare teams know where they’re going, you just have some chance of catching them in the neighbourhood.

Not only do we get all 7. Do you remember the special 8th Kakiyama / Kazariyama hybrid, the MASSIVE GIANT that will be running a separate course on the real day, partly through the Kawabata Arcade? It will also be run in, carried by a total of 60 men (as opposed to the regular 30-40), spout smoke and at points in its journey extend and protract its extendable top! This is a special sight to see.

Luck of lucks, my boss (he’s the front-most, left-most carrier of the Higashi Nagare Kakiyama! Look out for him!) managed to get his hands on a ticket for the Kushida seats for me. GREAT! I thought. After taking photos at Reisen Park, one spot suggested by the brochure I translated as a good spot to soak up the atmosphere, I moved in to Kushida.

…all the seats were taken.

But at the very faarr end of the allocation on my ticket, my little “Yamakasa Navi Staff” armband got me talking to some other Yamakasa net men, and a little old dude from somewhere in Honshuu that was chilling on the camera platform helped me climb over the railing.

AWESOME SEATS, ladies and gentlemen!! (or awesome plank of wood?) I got pretty sunburnt (little dude knew well to stay in the shade) and there was naturally no railing to speak of but it was still totally and completely MORE THAN worth the price of the ticket that I didn’t pay for, or line up for on one day in June when it sold out within 15 minutes!


Note: No matter how small and insignificant your publication, remember to always wear an official looking nametag/armband.

So here we go, the next photo series:

Oiyama Narashi! The 7 Streams of Old Hakata line up at Reisen Park…


Bucket Delivery Service!

Sometimes these buckets are full of water. Does that mean they can’t share water, either?

BTW as an Australian living through the drought decade, I feel guilty just by being around when all this wanton water throwing is going on. Lucky ducks and their rainy season!


Kids on their way

Ain’t they cute?


More and more crowds building…

These guys are from Chiyo… the serious guys.



Reisen Park! Counting the wood planks announcing their themes, I see… 4 Kakiyama in a row.

This is something like what the Reisen Park area will look like on the day of the Oiyama. Only this has less crowds and more daylight, of course. I’m planning on being here from 3-4 AM to soak up the atmosphere. If it’s not too crowded…


Lined up at Reisen Park!

You can see them better now… five in the line of sight, a few more arrived since we got there. All 8 will be in line here while the troops come group by group from their separate towns and assemble.

The park was pretty free to start with but got more and more and MORE packed as the minutes went by, to the point where you could just smell sweaty funboshi everywhere.


Right now, chill time.

It’s just the right height for a bit of lean-to.


Troops are on the march! Points for spiffy checks…

I wonder who the checks belong to… the same way that Higashi came in groups of maybe 50 runners to greet their leaders, these groups were moving in 50ish blocks. They’d run in to the park from wherever their sub-area of their nagare is… maybe they gathered in sub-towns and then ran down.

I saw lines and lines of them waiting to leave one by one at the lights though. People would clap their march rhythm of “yoissha! yoissha!” when they passed, so I guess this is a triumphant entry.


Some photo ops for the kids.

This happened a bit on the Tenjin day as well. That poor kid’s not into it though…

It’s a pretty special opportunity with this many people around, on an official presentation day, to have your kids take photos on top of the Kazariyama. I have a feeling they’re relatives though, or at least people from that stream.


Little kid is rocking it!

And looks a lot like his grandpa, too! You can buy baby clothes like that from a few Yamakasa shops around the place.


Highschool girls getting the water ready.

These girls were cool! Actually, my manager also got a photo of them. I swear it’s the same girls, at the least the same uniform. Good on you, guys!



And the Yamakasa mood builds at Kushida Shrine!


Back to Kushida Shrine! This is 45 minutes before the Kakiyama are scheduled to make their big show.

These are the bad fortunes. People get them from the fortune telling vending machines for a donation of 100 yen. If you get a good one you can keep it for a year max, if you get a bad one you can tie it here and help it “nullify”.


Line for Kushida Blessings

Unlike the Oshio Tori, this is more of a come-as-you-like event, though participants seemed to be coming and going in those 50 man teams so it might be a requirement to drop by. Anyway, it was pretty packed.


Kids at the handwashing place.

Aren’t they CUTE?? Actually I later found out it was my boss’s wife minding them. I got a picture of his son’s HAND, too. Aren’t I a good photographer?


Crowds lining the streets

Everyone was in everyone’s way. This is the exit to Kushida. People had to clear the way to let runners through to do their bless thing, but really… they were blocking up the entrance. Once I left I knew why too.. the streets had been cordoned off in my absense and you couldn’t get a spot behind the cord, nor walk around where it wasn’t.


View from the neighbouring building (going to seat)

If you go to the back seats, you have to walk around the neighbouring building and get to sit up on its balcony/verandah. This was the crowd out there… I walked out of the shrine and straight onto the road full of participants to ask a security guard where my seating was… PSYCH to you people, I have a ticket!


Which gets me….. right about here.

There were NO seats… except at the very edge of the very back, which is not a good place to take photos from. And of course you had this ghastly barrier to deal with.


Some men stand around looking important.

Or alternatively, squinting in the sun. After this, that funny old man from Okayama (or was it Kumamoto?) showed me that nobody really cared if we were on the video platform, so that’s where I sat.

It’s a pretty neat view… hey look, TV from the inside!

A program called “Mentai Wide” shown on the FBC (Fukuoka Broadcasting Corporation?) had a special for the Oiyama Narashi. I think their camera was under and to the left of where we were sitting… I couldn’t see it anywhere.


More camera crews across the seating

The place was predictably packed. That’s the kind of thing I was sitting on, by the way, only mine had a bar or two across the front.


The view from my special seat!!
Is pretty nice. You can see just how packed it was… glad the weather was nice too. The teams will run in from the road on the far right (the start line is in the direction of the shrine – opposite me – along the right-hand wall). They run a loop around the flag on the left, heading towards me at first and then away and back out again.

The time it takes to complete the entire shrine entry & exit is somewhat of a competitive sport between teams. It’s also a thing whether or not their Kakiyama (the base of which is tall enough to let people lean comfortably against it, see above… it’s always nearly touching the ground) scrapes tracks into the sand or not. As such participants will stomp the sand flat before it’s their Kakiyama’s turn, allowing for a clear display of their lifting skills (or lack thereof).

Each Kakiyama’s Grand Entry!


The Lead Team: Nishi Nagare


The pride of the festival this year, Nishi gets to go first – big props to them. I’ve heard that they’re one of the more populous Nagare, which saves them a lot of trouble as the Yamakasa is always looking for participants.


In come the kids, bearing the signs!

They introduce each one of the cities within Nishi.

I only just now realised that while trying to read them. They also say “number one Yamakasa, Nishi Nagare”. That means these, too, are made fresh every year. Sweet huh?


Run around the mark!

They get herded a little bit by the older people. They do a round and then leave again, and the announcer announces the arrival of the Kakiyama due in 2-3 minutes.


Waiting… & crowds outside

Pretty packed huh? I don’t know what you can actually see on the day, but I have my apprehensions. Maybe just the tops of the Kakiyama passing by?


This is the video that I took from my special seat~

It’s kind of shaky, and my old camera can’t actually zoom while filming so it got pretty close at one point. But you get the gist, and it’s a great place to shoot from. Nishi came in at great speed but got the angle wrong and caught on the flagpole…..

And the next moment, had to sing the “Hakata Victory Song” that only the lead team gets to sing in front of everybody, before leaving on the main run. Embarassing, huh? That song btw is also sung at weddings and festive events and that.


Team 2: The Proud Chiyo!


If you remember your history lessons, Chiyo joined the Yamakasa after WWII, a good 300+ years after the rest of the teams. The reason it was allowed in was because it always HAS been part of old Hakata; just being across the river from the rest of town has sort of kept it from most of the events. Even now things are run a bit differently over there… but they take their Yamakasa really seriously as a result, determined to prove their worth in the event. Even the kids Yamakasa won’t touch the ground… they’re always highly trained and ones to look out for in terms of speed and accuracy.


Kind of sad, but I don’t have any photos of them on my camera. The moment the 1st team clears out though, the next one’s in there with buckets and sand-flatteners to get the grounds ready for their run.

Run Chiyo! They have a pretty smooth but careful run, slowing right down at the flagpole.

At least they didn’t get caught on it, right? Makes you think about just how hard steering must be. As one funboshi-clad man, steering about 40 funboshi-clad men carrying a one-ton highly decorated object. Actually it looks like two. Despite all the pride and prestige that comes with it, would you really pay to run in this event….?


Number 3, Ebisu Nagare


Not much to say about these guys. They weren’t strong though… not that that’s a bad thing or anything. This is not a spectator sport… at all.


In they come!

And out they go!


Waiting for the run to start…

Look at all that water on the pavement. This festival uses a LOT of water…


Wetting the sand

So as to make it less dusty for the runners/spectators, and potentially provide better grip…? It’s all part of the plan.



Number Four, their lands include Kawabata Arcade, Kushida surrounds and Doi Street!


I just recently realised that there’s a Doi street in Hakata town…


Running in!

Running in! closeup

Around the flag…

This is one of the Nagare that still has all the towns inside of it split up into different Happi patterns. And they’re actually running in formation… that’s pretty cool. I only just noticed that.


Guys looking important.

Hey, is that Check pattern? I do believe it is… does that make Checks a part of Doi? Mayhaps it does!


These guys look pretty smooth. But they lost some steam towards the end…


Number Five, the oldest & wisest, Daikoku Nagare


I just like that their name says “big black”. These guys were pretty good in the performance stakes too.


In they come!

And back around again…


The Daikoku Bucket!

I don’t know why but, they have a special bucket with a flag that they carry. It must be their local tradition… I saw it lining up at Reisen park too.


Cleaning the tracks.

These guys were pretty serious about it…



Number Six, the highly trained & specialised Higashi Nagare!


Hahahahaha. I’m not biased AT ALL. But since I’m based in Gokusho, these guys are kind of my team. I hope after the event is over that souvenir shops are still selling stuff, because I really want a Higashi Nagare wooden keychain to take home… you may have seen some of the shimekomi clad men with necklaces around their necks, little wooden plaques. Those are the best souvenirs people have come up with. Participants will wear the one of their Nagare, obviously, as a little addition to the uniform.



And stomping~


Look at them go! That felt pretty smooth….


Lucky Number 7 (or are they?), Hakata’s play district Nakasu Nagare!


The thing with Nakasu is, it’s a play hub. Nestled on a sandbank between the two big rivers that separate Fukuoka and Hakata, it’s where all the drinkeries, karaokeries and “pink” shops gather in the metropolis. So while in the last 100 years or so there have been fewer and fewer local residents to partake in all streams, Nakasu has suffered the worst as there’s just not that many houses there anymore.

So if you want to give running in the Hakata Yamakasa a try, if you really wanna taste the culture from the other side of the spectator ropes, then Nakasu is probably your best bet. Nobody I know can guarantee this (as they’re from Higashi) but Nakasu’s members more often include staff from the shops there rather than born and bred residents.

That in mind I can see how their performance might not be on par with someone like Higashi or Chiyo (who take these things seriously) or Nishi (who have stacks of people, apparently).

Running with flags~

Around the mark!

Does that make sense? It’s a sailing term I think. My house is full of sailors so I always hear & use it…


Guard of honour!

Is he checking that everyone’s in line, or is he out of line himself…? It’s like the sound of one hand clapping… A chicken’s hand, perhaps, or that of an egg?


Tracks! Caught Red-handed

Sorry Nakasu, these were some pretty deep tread marks.


Off they go! A bit slow off the mark, slow in general…

At least they didn’t get hooked on the main pole, like SOME streams I know…


Last but by no means least, number 8 is Kawabata Arcade’s Moving Kazariyama!


Firstly, there’s less people to do the display thing because there’s just not that many subtowns to represent… Kawabata’s Kazariyama is a joint effort between citizens of all of Hakata to carry a massive-ass thing across town. So there’s less of a team culture pride factor. But it’s bigger and way heavier, so there’s more of a yeah-that’s-me-I-did-that factor.


Introducing Kami Kawabata Street

Not Nagare, mind.

People Watching in the Side Gate

Did they have tickets? I don’t think so… I love the little girl in yellow.


SIDEWAYS VIDEO FUN!! My manager didn’t want to bother putting this the right way up… sorry guys, serious queeze factor!

I wanted to fit all of that monstrosity into the frame. Look at it go, spouting smoke… it looks like something out of a Ghibli movie, not from real life. Look at it turning the corner… you can see it ABOVE the spectator stands which are 3 storeys high. It looks kind of like…. Howl’s Moving Castle…?

There’s more photos from the Oiyama Narashi to come but, ARRGH! Not enough time in the world! It’s already 3am on the day of Oiyama, I had a mad bike ride in from home (after 3-4 hrs’ luxurious sleep, while my workmates did an all-nighter testing our alley cam and getting shit together). Among the sights that I saw at 2.30 am, besides a proliferation of Yatai on the night streets of Tenjin:

– Cameras and funboshi’d men with lanterns gathered quietly around the goal point.

– Groups of 50 gathering, and leaving at a march of “yoissha! yoissha!” for Reisen Park and Kushida

– The ominous, mysterious full moon behind wispy clouds…

– The breaking apart of Higashi’s Kazariyama! So carefully crafted, now being torn down with maximum efficiency by a bunch of guys and a truck.

– And the solemn, absolutely silent HQ of one town in Higashi, gathered and waiting for their call out (possibly) or just… sitting. All 20-30 people, solemn as shoes. I couldn’t even take a photo.


Ahh, the sights and sounds of the festival day. I got my route planned out, my water refilled, my Salaryman Energy Drink and combini bread breakfast consumed….let’s see what my night-blur camera can make of it.

Adios, see you on the other side of Oiyama!!


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