Jesse Kirkwood is Fukuoka Now’s reporter on the scene this year’s Yamakasa festival.
Summer is here, you may have noticed, and so is the awesome spectacle of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival. Originally a float parade like any other in Japan, Yamakasa has evolved over centuries and now centers around a unique helter-skelter race in which seven teams (or nagare) take part, every man sharing the load of a huge decorative float and clad in a distinctive kind of loincloth.
The festival has actually been underway since the 1st July: the floats have been painstakingly assembled, checked, blessed by priests, cleaned and re-cleaned, while the all-male participants have foregone sleep in favour of practice runs at the crack of dawn, purification rituals and endless team meetings. This weekend, the seven nagare will flaunt their floats for a final time as well as fine-tune their technique in additional practice runs which are well worth attending for a taster of Yamakasa.
But nothing can quite compare to the final Oiyama event, which begins at 4:59 on Monday morning: driven on by the crowds, constant dousings of water, and their own frenzied chanting, the teams will bear their precious cargo at breakneck speeds around the 5km course. Spectators from all over Japan – and beyond – will attend in their thousands: if you want to see one of the most distinctly Fukuokan festivals of the year, make sure you do too.”
Yamakasa 2013 in Photos – The lead up to Oiyama
Text and photos by Jesse Kirkwood (Lake District, UK, Student / teacher) for Fukuoka Now.
YAMAKASA 2013 SCHEDULE, 7/12~15
The fun has only just begun for this year’s Yamakasa – there are many more events in the lead up to the final Oiyama event, which begins at 4:59 on Monday morning. Check the schedule below for all remaining events, and don’t forget to set your alarm for Monday morning’s early wake-up. Oisa oisa!
☛Jul. 12 (15:59 ~)
A rehearsal for the Oiyama race. Participants run a slightly shortened 4km course through the streets of Hakata from Kushida Shrine. The atmosphere is similar to that of the main event, but at a more reasonable time.
☛Jul. 13 (15:30 ~)
Floats are carried on a 2.6km course from the Gofukumachi Intersection to the Fukuoka City Hall, where they are greeted by dignitaries. Traffic is stopped along Meiji Dori for the duration of this event.
☛Jul. 14 (Evening)
Similar to the July 10th run, some teams complete a practise run through their own territory. An evening warm-up, this is the last chance to practice and fix technique before the Oiyama.
☛Jul. 15 (Early morning 4:59 ~)
The climax of the Hakata Yamakasa festival. Teams begin assembling at 1:30 in the morning. The first team leaves the starting line at Kushida Shrine at 4.59 am. Thousands of men from the seven districts race through the streets carrying decorative, one-ton floats. Spectators line the streets cheering them on by shouting “oisa oisa” and splashing them with water to keep them cool. The course takes about 30 minutes to run. After eighth team departs Kushida Shrine, a Noh farce is performed to calm the gods.
This year’s race order is:
4:59 Ebisu / 恵比須流
5:05 Doi / 土居流
5:10 Daikoku / 大黒流
5:15 Higashi / 東流
5:20 Nakasu / 中洲流
5:25 Nishi / 西流
5:30 Chiyo / 千代流
5:35 Kazariyama / 飾り山
For Yamakasa timetable, transportation schedules and more info, check out our Hakata Gion Yamakasa 2013 Guide.