Dontaku, derived from the Dutch word Zondag (holiday) is one of the largest festivals in Japan attracting two million spectators. On May 3 & 4, the parades begin with the Hakata Matsubayashi procession, which has celebrated the new year for the last 839 years. What? You’ve never been? Surely you must be curious as to what draws such huge crowds to the streets. Here’s Fukuoka Now’s guide to set you on your way!
2012 Dontaku video by Dennis Medvevchikov for Fukuoka Now
Dontaku Hiroba includes Meiji-dori Ave. from Gofukumachi Intersection to Fukuoka City Hall. The main parade passage from the starting point, Gofukumachi Intersection, to the end point, Fukuoka City Hall, is 30 minutes long. See the map and schedule below for program details.
Hakata-ekimae Dontaku Street
“Hakata Ekimae-dori Hiroba” is located on Hakata Ekimae-dori: this is where the Hakata versions of the Dontaku parades take place. There are also stages nearby, including one outside JR Hakata Station. See the schedule below for program details.
Dontaku 2018 Schedule
Eve of ceremony
May 2 (Wed.): 16:30~20:00
Venue: Fukuoka Kokusai Center
Event celebrating the holding of “Hakata Dontaku”.
Entrance tickets are free.
• Ticket distribution date: Apr. 18 (Wed.) 10:00~
• Distribution location: Fukuoka Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Nishinippon Shimbun (Passage Hiroba), RKB Mainichi Broadcasting, Bayside Place Hakata Port Tower
May 3 (Thu., hol.): 10:00~
Venue: Minato stage (Chuo Futoh event space)
The Mayor of Fukuoka, along with festival organizers and local foreign dignitaries, makes opening remarks to kick off the festival.
May 3 (Thu., hol.), May 4 (Fri., hol.): 9:00~17:00
Venue: Departs from Kushida Jinja Shrine
This parade is the origin of the festival – it hasn’t changed much in 839 years! It is led by three gods of fortune riding on horseback and a group of dancing children. This group also leads the main Dontaku Parade on May 4.
May 3 (Thu., hol.): 13:00~19:00
May 4 (Fri., hol.): 15:00~20:00
Venue: Dontaku Hiroba (Gofukumachi to Tenjin)
22,000 people march along the parade route in vibrant costumes with lively music and dancing.
Dontaku Flower Marching Bands
May 4 (Fri., hol.): 15:00~17:00
Venue: Dontaku Hiroba (Meiji-dori Ave.), festival main stage (City Hall stage)
Marching bands of students, companies and government agencies perform. From 16:30 to 18:30, the bands perform at the City Hall stage.
Special Guest Parade Groups
May 3 (Thu., hol.) ~ May 4 (Fri., hol.)
Venue: Dontaku Hiroba (Meiji-dori Ave.), Hakata-ekimae Dontaku Street, each stage
Japanese and international groups share their culture while marching in parades.
Hakata-ekimae Dontaku Street
May 3 (Thu., hol.): 10:00~11:30
May 4 (Fri., hol.): 10:00~13:00
Venue: Hakata Ekimae-dori
Bitesize Hakata versions of the Dontaku parades, travelling 150 m from Hakatekimae 2-chome Intersection towards the river.
May 2 (Wed.) ~ May 4 (Fri., hol.)
Route: Around the city (Nakasu to Fukushige)
Four vibrantly decorated large trucks known as “Flower Cars” cruise through the city. Brilliantly illuminated at night. (5/2: 16:40~20:50, 5/3: 10:20~20:50, 5/4: 10:45~20:35)
May 3 (Thu., hol.), May 4 (Fri., hol.) 9:00~21:00
Venue: Dontaku Stages
450 groups (13,000 people) participate in traditional and contemporary music, dance, song, and other performances at 34 stages around the city.
Grand Finale: So Odori
May 4 (Fri., hol.): 18:50~19:20
Venue: Dontaku Hiroba
The grand finale of Hakata Dontaku in which parade watchers join the performers in Japanese folk dance.
Origins of Dontaku
The name Dontaku comes from the Dutch word for holiday (zondag).
The origins of Hakata Dontaku can be traced back 839 years to the establishment of the Matsubayashi Parade. This has since developed into a fun celebration that is organized by Hakata locals. The event later became known as the Fukuoka Shimin Matsuri (Citizen’s Festival) since 1962.
Matsubayashi and Dontaku were suspended for eight years during the Second World War. However, the events resumed in 1946 soon after the end of the war to help rejuvenate Fukuoka. It is said that the sound of people marching through the rubble helped restore confidence among the locals. The following year, the Fukuoka Chamber of Commerce and Industry helped organize the first full-scale post-war Dontaku Festival.
A True Citizen’s Festival
On May 3 and 4 this area buzzes with activity when about 753 groups of paraders and performers, totalling more than 38,000 people, participate in Dontaku. Groups and individuals from all over Kyushu descend on Fukuoka to join these parades: local citizens’ associations, schools, private companies, small businesses, marching bands and drum majorettes – all dancing freely in the street while showcasing their unique costumes and talents. Several international groups will share their own cultures whilst marching in the parades. This inclusion of overseas visitors fits very well with Dontaku’s current theme – celebrating Japan’s diversity – and is an occasion for people from all walks of life to meet and wish each other well.
While the highlight of the festival may be the two parades, Dontaku includes a variety of other entertainment, including floats, nighttime illuminations, food stalls and stage shows. Around 30 stages are erected throughout the city, an opportunity for thousands of people to take turns performing traditional dances, folk songs and contemporary music. Closing the two-day festival are rousing renditions of the Dontaku dance that spectators are invited to participate in. The intriguing mix of ancient traditions and modern exuberance make Dontaku a festival unlike any other in Kyushu – a unique blend of past and present, much like Japan itself!
This parade is the origin of the festival – it hasn’t changed much in 839 years! It departs at 8:50 from Kushida Jinja Shrine on May 3 (Thu.) and May 4 (Fri.). This colorful procession is led by three gods of fortune riding on horseback: Fukurokuju (god of long life), Ebisu (god of business) and Daikoku (god of wealth). They’re accompanied by a group of dancing children, who, in case the gods get above themselves, sing the special festival chant ‘iitate.’ In their wake follow thousands of local people in traditional dress, all performing the Matsubayashi custom of greeting each other through song and dance. This procession has remained unchanged since the Middle Ages and has been designated an Intangible Cultural Property by Fukuoka Prefecture. This group also leads the main Dontaku Parade on May 4.
The Dontaku Festival might not conjure up images as iconic as July’s Yamakasa Festival (no loincloths here!), yet some images are closely associated with it. The following three items in particular can be found on many Dontaku tourist brochures, magazine covers and souvenirs, making them unofficial Dontaku symbols.
Shamoji: All throughout the parade participants can be seen clapping these spoons to the beat of traditional music. But how exactly did an ordinary Japanese kitchen utensil, used to stir and serve rice, end up in this festival? The explanation goes that the shamoji evokes the image of a housewife busy preparing a meal, rushing out to join the passing parade!
Niwaka Mask: This mask is used in Hakata Niwaka, a style of traditional improvisational comedy performed at festivals. The term niwaka itself is said to stem from a local rice cracker brand called Niwaka Senbei, which contained a half mask in its box to be put on during niwaka performances. This way the comedian, who poked fun at established social conventions in witty Hakata dialect, could cleverly hide his identity from those he satirized!
Flower Hat: While the festival sports a huge variety of groups, each with their favorite costumes, one outfit choice that recurs often is the hanakasa, or flower hat. The origin of the flower hat is unknown – but what fashionable girl wouldn’t want to crown her cap with roses?
The Dontaku theme song “Bonchikawaiya” has seven verses but we’ve limited ourselves to including just the first one. Sing along as the parade passes and stun the locals with your knowledge of all things Dontaku!
“Bonchi Kawaiya Nenneshiya
Shinagawajoroshu wa Jumonme
Jumonme no Teppodama
Tamaya ga kawa e Supponpon”
If you’re interested, read about the history of the Dontaku song here!
The parades of gorgeously decorated Flower Cars, hana jidosha, form an integral part of the Dontaku festivities. Two teams of three vehicles, each decorated with about 10,000 artificial flowers, approx. 1,200 LED and original designs that change every year, animate the festival atmosphere. Originally, tramways were used, but they were replaced by automobiles when tram service was suspended in 1977. At night the cars, illuminated by so many bulbs, are a splendid sight.
Flower Car Team A:
• Nishitetsu Group 110th Anniversary
• Hawks & Avispa soar to the top!
Flower Car Team B:
• Anpanman Children’s Museum
• Momo Taro
2018 Flower Car routes & schedule
May 2 (Wed.): 16:40~20:50
May 3 (Thu., hol.): 10:20~20:50
May 4 (Fri., hol.): 10:45~20:35
You can check the locations of the Flower Cars using this site, which features the cars’ current locations and the running schedule (including delay information). The cars drive through Fukuoka’s busiest areas, including Meinohama, Fukushige, Nishijin, Ohori Park, Tenjin, Nakasu and Hakata Station (see below).
Seasoned foreigners who’ve visited many matsuri have doubtlessly already acquainted themselves with Japanese festival fare. For those less familiar with these culinary delights, here are three local favorites.
Ringo-ame: Visitors with a sweet tooth won’t be able to resist the promised sugar high of these candied apples on a stick, coated with a hot red syrup that dries hard. The result is a translucent, bright red glaze, a feast to the eyes as well as the tastebuds! Other versions such as ichigo-ame (glazed strawberries) are on offer in season. Don’t break your teeth!
Ikayaki: This grilled squid snack, marinated in a sugary soy sauce, is great for munching on as you walk through the streets. Don’t take too much time chewing though – its texture becomes rubbery as it cools, making it hard work for your jaw!
Hashimaki: A type of okonomiyaki (savory pancake) popular at festivals is hashimaki – literally translated as “chopstick roll”. The okonomiyaki is served rolled (maki) around a pair of chopsticks (hashi) and topped with mayonnaise, seaweed flakes (nori) and fish flakes (katsuo). It’s eaten much like a corndog and is easy to enjoy on the go.
Original Dontaku goods will be on sale, such as special Dontaku edition Hakata wood charms (kifuda), folding fans (sensu) designed by well-known, Hakata-born graphic designer Isao Nishijima, writing paper (ippitsusen) and more. Great for souvenirs!
• Original Hakata wood charm (kifuda) ¥500/pc
• Writing paper (ippitsusen) ¥300/pc
• Illustrated postcards ¥450/set (5 pcs.)
• Hand towel (tenugui) ¥500/pc
• Wooden spoon (shamoji) w/ illustrations ¥1,000/set (2 pcs.)
• Wooden spoon (shamoji) w/ burnt seals ¥500/set (2 pcs.)
• Original folding fan (sensu) ¥2,000/pc
• Lucky bag (fukubukuro) ¥500/set
• Hakata playing cards (karuta) ¥2,160/set
Sold during the festival period at the Dontaku information counters in the following locations:
• Ship’s Garden Suijo Park
• JR Hakata Station
• ACROS Fukuoka
How to get involved?
If you are looking to participate in the parade, it is possible if you register in advance. But if you cannot pre-register, don’t worry, you can join in on the So Odori communal dance on the day! Spectators are invited to jump in and join as the May 4 parade comes to a climax! Dontaku closes in typical Hakata-style. Participants perform the iwai-medeta song, while doing the ippon-jime (single hand clap). These popular local traditions are well worth learning while you’re in Fukuoka!
Go forth and enjoy Dontaku 2018!
Originally written in April 2016, updated April 2018.
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NOTE: The information presented here was gathered and summarized by the Fukuoka Now staff. While we have done our best to check for accuracy, there might be errors and details may have changed. If you notice any errors or changes, please contact us. This report was originally written in Apr. 2016.