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July 12: Narashi Cont’d (and some post-Oiyama updates)

Yamakasa-NaviWhat is this Yamakasa?July 12: Narashi Cont’d (and some post-Oiyama updates)

July 12: Narashi Cont’d (and some post-Oiyama updates)

Good morning!


After a long and early morning of running around, as Hakata went on with the daily business of business me and coworkers crashed on our various couches/beds for the day, to return in the afternoon and do some necessary updates.


It’s hard running a website for a festival like Yamakasa, because there’s a really short window of time in which it suddenly becomes very relevant and the information on it has to be as up to date in that time as possible. Photos have to be up, times and news and things have to be up so that we look like we know what we’re doing. So my manager has to not only take lovely photos for the stories on the page, but ALSO write those stories and updates. And keep the Twitter world informed about times and things festival-related. And upload and manage videos and photos and things… basically he has to do fifty things at once where time is completely of the essence.

Why? Because our boss, the other guy who would do stuff like that, is IN the Yamakasa. It’s a tough life!


Luckily my blog is an “impression” blog, so I don’t have to be timely or anything. 🙂


But before I skip back to the 12th for some more photos, as it is now the 15th and Oiyama is over, I’d like to post two tidbits of information:

Not that it’s a competition or anything, but it’s a big point of pride. Nishi still seems to have a few problems, but Kami-Kawabata (the GIANT Kazariyama that gets carried around on a special course, with the retractable top) has pretty much halved its time around the Kushida Loop.  As predicted, Chiyo and Higashi’s serious attitude towards the event showed in their results. The story from our boss is that Higashi sped up after hearing the happy cheers of Chiyo at the goal point ahead of them, meaning they must have gotten an awesome running time. If they hadn’t done that, Chiyo would have been the clear winner.

Good job everybody! For all the bloody, dirtied shoulders and sore eyes this morning the atmosphere was festive, exciting, packed with tourists and yet somehow very local in places too. Having seen the Yamakasa quite a few times now (quite a luxury, judging by some of what I heard around me at Kushida this morning), what really touched me at this event was how local businesses and people in job clothes were out in the street cheering and getting wet, and the crowds of people grabbing spots at 2 or 3 am along their local routes to see the Kakiyama go by.

And everybody cheering everybody, and excitement and stale fundoshi smell in the air. Thanks for a lovely Yamakasa, everybody!


Oiyama Narashi Cont’d

After the event, suddenly all the crowds cleared out.

It’s as if nothing ever happened….

Here comes the water!

It was a pretty balmy day, but I don’t know if I would like or dislike being sprayed with cold water while running.


Crowds just around the corner

After the shrine we all rushed out to see some teams run the course… it was a bit of a crowd.


Here comes Higashi! Look at those runners go…

This has to be one of my favourite photos of guys pulling Kakiyama. That stuff looks like intensely hard work. I don’t know how they don’t just trip all over each other honestly. You pay MONEY (in donations) to do this, be yelled at by those higher ranking than you and have to wash dishes and sweep up leaves and stuff… and they STILL do it. You gotta admire that.


Behind the Kakiyama

These guys are working hard too. Can you feel the action-packed excitement, even without drums beating and everyone clapping to the timing of “Yoissha, Yoissha!”? That’s thanks to the blur in my camera. It has a purpose, doesn’t it?


The runners at the back… bit more leisurely. 

It always amazes me that the kids can stay in front, and these guys directly behind, a yamakasa travelling at full speed. How does that work? The kids must be ages ahead and slowly get caught up on, and the dudes must be cutting corners. It doesn’t make sense any other way…. but as we the audience cut corners in the course to see the teams at each point, the kids are always just in front and the dudes just behind.




Hello, Kami-Kawabata!! They were stopped in the middle of Taihaku Doori.

You can see the ubiquitous Fukuoka City Buses lined up behind them… and Hakata Station as the backdrop. What were they standing around for?


An alternate view

My manager reckons the photo above is better, but I like this one… you can see all of Hakata station nice and clearly.


And from behind… Nakasu!

I thought the runs were over by this point, having seen everyone leave Kushida… I was pleasantly surprised that  someone was still running up Taihaku Doori.


Run, kids!

Now that I’ve realised what those planks are about, it makes a lot more sense… they’re a grand way to introduce the Kakiyama though. Somehow it wouldn’t be the same if it was JUST the Kakiyama guys running past.


And here they come! The pace seems relaxed….

I wonder what it is. Here I have my doubts about Nakasu. They just don’t seem to be running and raging along the way some of the others are… I know it’s a practise run but are they determined to take it easy? Or resigned to their team this year?


Enjoying the atmosphere a little!

They seem to be strolling along. Good for them, take in the scenery…. I should really stop being biased.


Back of the Kakiyama

Actually now that I htink about how those guys just have two feet on rounded logs, and their butt on a flat wooden surface, it does seem like a precarious place to be. Let’s stop making fun of the Yoissha guys! They do a hard job too.


Walking along…

How do they do it? They’re walking, but they’re still RIGHT NEXT to the Kakiyama..! It defies reason…


So that’s what this is about! Traffic jam!
It seems Kawabata was waiting for Nakasu to cross. See, the 7 Nagare are running most of the real course on the day, the one that bends all S-like across Hakata City. But Kawabata, being larger and more prone to getting caught in low-lying power lines, and being much heavier, and not belonging to any particular team, does its own little loop course near Kushida Shrine. It’s apparently quite the sight to see it race up the close-roofed Kawabata Arcade at full speed.

So usually the 7 main teams would have finished that part of Taihaku by the time that the Kawabata float showed up. But this time Nakasu seemed to be struggling a bit, and taking its time through the smaller streets. Well.. this IS a practise run, after all.

Here comes the Kawabata Kazariyama!

It’s pretty massive… and seems to be bringing the storm clouds in with it.


The lead planks, of course!

I thought for ages that the kid in the front there was a girl with a bob haircut… it’s actually a boy with his headkerchief flying in his face. You live and learn…


Kids running!

I never get tired of this sort of photo. It’s “cultural”.


Here come the runners!

Gee that thing is even more impressive to see being lugged around.


And we’re slowing down…

They looked pretty tired. My manager told me after this they did the rest of the course without a single stop though, so kudos to them.


And stop, please!

The plank announcing each sub-town has its other uses!


Disappearing head – progress shots!
I’m loving my GIF maker recently. This was actually a really slow, manual process… so much for a cool expensively automated thing. First the flag went down, then after a few minutes the whole thing rose up an inch (probably getting unhooked) and then got lowered down. I like how the guy stares out from behind the buildings one last time before disappearing….

Looking pretty tired right now…

Getting ready for the rest of the run.

I promised myself I would respect the runners and not extrapolate unnecessarily on their nakedness, but. This photo is proof for a Japanese friend convinced that Japanese men just don’t have leg hair. Take a look, my dear! Or come down to the Yamakasa. It’s a lesson in anatomy akin to a trip to your local onsen! 🙂


And off we go!

They did a turning-lifting start thing. I was sure they were on their last legs but as said, it seems they ran the whole way home without stopping. Good job, you guys. And actually, quite a few hairless legs here now that I think about it….. (sorry!)


Off they go!

Mr. Yoissha was giving pretty specific instructions, it looks like.


The back cordon rope, and that’s that.

As they’re not the team of a town, with an army of participants of all ages from a long long time ago (old, tired people who prefer to stroll, to put it impolitely), you don’t have a huge trail of people ahead and behind. Just the necessary numbers. Which means “this much” is a good estimate for how many is needed on hand to carry the Kakiyama (changing in and out as people get tired).



It all ends! And then, back at HQ…

So that’s how they get the kids to run all those miles…

My manager tells me that over the length of the festival, the kids of at least Higashi Nagare will get up to $50 worth of candy and sweets. A sizeable 2-3 bags of chips/popcorn/sweets for every day of running… not a bad hawl, little ones! Plus the props you get all year from your Hakata parents for being a good sport… also, no wonder not many teenagers are in on the action.



Separating the Kakiyama!

So, here’s Higashi at their headquarters, separating top and base so that they can put the base away.



Everyone is drenched in water by this point. There’s a different tradition in every Nagare; Higashi’s is to be really pedantic about cleaning and looking after the bits and pieces of their Kakiyama.


Cleaning up after themselves

Aren’t they good chaps?


Base leaves 1

After cleaning, the base gets hidden under the Kazariyama… which only LOOKS like it’s sitting on the ground! Really there’s poles holding it up against the walls of the “Yamagoya”, or that hut thing that the Kazariyama call home.


Base leaves 2

Off it goes… I really like the look of the “Higashi” kanji on these guys’ back.


Base leaves 3

And there it goes.


See the gap?

Mind the gap.


Kakiyama back in its place…

This kid was really cute peeking through the wood fence. Throughout the festival there was always guys in Naga Happi chilling at the Deitos right in front of Higashi HQ.


Miscellaneous cleaning happening

Saw this while walking back to work, happening a block away. Lots of odd jobs involved with this festival, huh. It seems like a lot of hard work.



So this is it! It was a beautiful sunny day, the crowds weren’t as bad as they would be at some points in the course on the final day, though they were substantial. The daylight was bright so there were lots of nice photos, and I got to see stacks of great stuff.


Verdict: If you want to take a look at what the Yamakasa is all about, come on the day of the Oiyama at 4am-ish and pick a spot, maybe two, at which to see the start and then the progress of the 7 teams of Kakiyama. If you’re really keen on seeing as much of this festival as you can, come along to the practise runs (especially Oiyama Narashi as the roads get closed and it’s got the whole real thing grandeur to it!) and check out the Kakiyama being run through corners, streets small and wide, in and out of the shrine… to really appreciate the energy and dexterity of these guys and see “every bit” of the event you’ll have to go more than once. All the announcements are in Japanese, but with a bit of prior reading you can be quite savvy from the get-go. And I got stopped 3-4 times and asked in English if I understood what the event was about… people in the know are keen to share!


If you REALLY want an inside seat though, grab a guidebook on the 1st and start attending everything on the calendar (or start on the 28th/29th when they’re building the Kazariyama!) and get to know your local team’s base camps. Chat to the guys at the Kazariyama, ask about some of the history behind their own team’s traditions, why they’re participating etc. You can hear some inside stories that won’t be in any publications, and get some inside knowledge about the area too.


If that isn’t close enough for you… shell out the $250ish in donations (at Higashi anyway) and get someone who’s in the event to let you participate! You must be a man, have quite a bit of stamina and want to put up with a lot of yelling and late-night compulsory carousing. I saw a few white folk in amongst the runners on Narashi and the final day, they’re out there! If you really want to give it a try you’re probably welcome to as each team needs manpower.



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