Report and photos by Sarah Burne James for Fukuoka Now.
With a few locations scribbled onto our crumpled map, and not quite sure what to expect, we wandered out of Hakata station to find crowds flocking to take photos of a row of geishas holding lanterns. We stood for a while, wondering if something more was about to happen until some lanterns caught our eye and we went to investigate. The area around Hakata station was lined with small paper lanterns attracting passers-by- and especially amateur photographers- like flies, myself included. The lanterns were a welcome touch of beauty in the midst of Hakata’s chaotic urban landscape, bringing to mind that well-worn cliché of Japan as a fusion of the ultra-modern and the traditional. It is hard to imagine how this could be better summed up than by a collection of candles in paper bags flickering outside the shinkansen station.
We wandered on, following our noses (and the invaluable free map) until we came to Fujita Park, where the candles were placed inside painted bamboo canes to give an unusually colourful, precise display.
Things just kept getting better and better. As a new arrival in Fukuoka, it was my first visit to Kushida shrine, which would be impressive at any time; with the lanterns, on a balmy autumn evening and with the buzz of a crowd it was spectacular. The lanterns themselves were pretty from the ground, but best viewed from above for the full picture. If in doubt, join a queue and it will probably lead to something good.
The shrine was a hive of activity, bustling with locals and foreigners alike. We met Alicia, Anne-Marie, Michael and Rebekah, all exchange students at Fukuoka University. They came to the lantern festival with their tea teacher, to take part in the informal tea ceremony at the shrine. Quin, a jazz pianist and English teacher originally from New York had also come especially to have a cup of cha with some Japanese friends. Natasha, from Romania, was visiting with her conversation exchange partner Kimiko.
Next we drifted into an elementary school, where we clumsily took off our shoes (haven’t got used to this about Japan yet) and headed upstairs for an overview of another large scale lantern picture. Even more excitingly, it was a volcano; kazan came up early on in our kana book, and we just did the kanji for it in kanji lesson two (we’re learning!).
There was still so much more to see, but we were running out of time, so we headed for another of the major sites. It was hard to keep moving as we passed a lantern competition, a band, and numerous tempting food stalls. There was something new around every corner.
But we made it to Shofuku-ji in time, where we followed the path that wound through the temple to see a variety of colourful panoramas. This was a far more tranquil setting, walking along paths lit only by lanterns we felt we had been transported back in time and it was hard to believe we were still so close to the hustle and bustle of Hakata’s Tahaiku Dori.
We emerged into a side-street just as the first candles were being blown out; it must have been a big job. We decided to head back to the station, thinking that a lovely evening was over, but even then we stumbled across a few more treats: a bubble machine and then one final lantern arrangement first glimpsed tantalisingly through a hedge. Here, we luckily remembered to get a group photo.
The time passed so quickly, and there was so much to see take in didn’t even see half of it. For next year, it would definitely be worth investigating the free shuttle bus or taking a bike; this would mean seeing more lanterns but at the expense of the relaxed meandering through the side streets of Hakata.
Report and photos by Sarah Burne James for Fukuoka Now on 10/19 (Sat.).