Autumn in Hakata is not complete without a trip to Hakozaki Shrine. Every year, more than a million people visit the shrine during the festival. The Hojoya festival originates from the teachings of the kami Hachiman, and has continued for more than 1,000 years to give thanks for the blessings of nature and the souls of living creatures, as well as for praying for successful businesses and safety for families.
Aside from observing Shinto rituals such as offering gifts to the gods, the biggest draw for modern visitors is the 500 or so stalls lining both sides of the approach to the shrine. The variety of stalls goes beyond typical festival fare such as candied apples, fried squid, yakitori and takoyaki, to stalls with goldfish catching, pinball-like game, “smart ball” and other games, and the even more-funny-than-scary “haunted houses”. Chanpon, glass instruments intricately hand-painted by miko (shrine maidens) are one of the most popular and iconic souvenirs of the festival. This year, visitors can buy them at the shrine fudasho (where omamori are sold) for the duration of the festival, starting from 7:30 am on Sep. 12. The festival is at its busiest between 18:00 and 20:00, and especially on weekends. Some stalls start to close up at around 9 pm (with the latest staying until approximately 11 pm), but the area is often busy until 22:00. Also, some stalls close much earlier on the last day, so we advise going early!
Hojoya Festival is celebrated at Hakozaki Shrine every year between Sep. 12 and 18. For more info, photos and the schedule of what’s on, read on!
The Hojoya Festival is said to have originated in the year 720 at the Usa Hachimangu Shinto Shrine in Oita, and was initially held to commemorate the war dead. Since then, the festival has become an event for honoring all living things, particularly the lives that allow us to live. The first Hojoya Festival at Hakozaki Shrine was held in 919 AD. It is also said that the festival began after an oracle from a kami, which went, “Since so much life is taken during war, a festival to celebrate the release of life should be held.” An alternative tale comes from Buddhism: Rusui-choja, a previous life of Buddha, helped fish that had been dying in a dried-up pond; they expressed their gratitude to him and incarnated in thirty-three heavens. Whichever origin story you believe, it is clear that Hojoya celebrates life and freedom; after all, the first two kanji of “Hojoya” are “放” (release) and “生” (live). Don’t miss the last day of the festival, when birds and fish are “freed” in accordance with the will of the kami.
Until the Taisho period (about a century ago), the Hakata merchants would close their shops, celebrate with their families and neighbors, and hold large parties. The women had new kimono made for the occasion and brought local food and dinnerware to the parties, turning them into large picnics. These were called makudashi, and since 1975, groups have been trying to keep alive the Hakatakko spirit by recreating these makudashi.
A scene from the makudashi on Sep. 15.
At almost any time you can catch a live performance on the Kaminigiwai Stage, located very close to the main shrine. Entertainment ranges from local stand-up comedy known as Hakata Niwaka, to traditional-style Japanese music, dances, Japanese drumming, and trained monkey performances! Here is this year’s schedule (subject to change):
19:00 Live acoustic performance by Kyushu Visual Arts Student Band
11:00 Street performance by Kyushu Street Performance Troupe
18:00 Dedication performance
11:00 Brass band performance by Fukuoka Shiritsu Hakozaki Elem. School
12:00 Dedication performance
12:00 Koto performance*
15:00 Makudashi (banquet) by Hakata Chonin Bunka Renmei
11:30 Hako Fes 2019 (Hakonowa Dance by Ryohei Kondo)
12:30 Dedication performance
14:00 Orio Kagura (Shinto music and dance)
17:00 Martial arts performance by the Japan Karate Association Fukuoka Headquarters
19:00 Hakata koma (spinning top) performance by Hakata Koma Hozonkai
20:00 Wadaiko (Japanese drum) performance by Hakata Kinjinshi Taiko
9/16 (Mon., hol.)
10:30 Martial arts performance by Ryusuikai Karate
12:00 Hula dance
14:00 Dedication performance
16:15 Martial arts performance by Hogyokukai Mugairyu Iaido
17:15 Wadaiko (Japanese drum) performance by Hakata Bishin Taiko
18:30 Martial arts performance by Fujiryu-Taijutsu
20:00 Blue Rains (The Ventures cover band)
19:00 Noh performance (lecture on how to experience Noh)*
13:00 Dedication performance
14:00 Folk Group Minamikaze
17:00 Hakata Niwaka (traditional comedy) by Hakata Niwaka Dojo
18:00 Dedication performance
16:00 Dedication performance
17:00 Dedication performance
18:00 Raspberry Dream (band)
*Items with this mark will be held at the haiden (front shrine).
Every year the shrine holds public ceremonies to pray for a bountiful harvest and to show appreciation for life itself. Most of the events are small prayers or rituals, but there are two that stand out: Hojoya Taisai and Hojo Shinji. These events are a bit more animated, with more to see. Here is this year’s schedule:
18:00 Omikoshi Kiyome (御神輿清め): Purification of portable shrines
24:00 Shonichi-sai (初日祭): Prayer to open the first day’s festivities, Shinrei-igyosai (神霊移御祭): Moving of the holy spirits
15:00 Hongu Yumikesai (本宮夕御饌祭): morning offerings
18:00 Omikoshi Gyoretsu (御神輿行列、お下り): Parade of portable shrines (descent)
10:00 Tongu Asamikesai (頓宮朝御饌祭): Morning offerings
13:00 Kenka-sai (献菓祭): Well-known companies belonging to the Japan Sweets Association donate sweets to the shrine.
15:00 Tongu Yumikesai (頓宮夕御饌祭): Evening offerings
10:00 Tongu Asamikesai (頓宮朝御饌祭): Morning offerings
13:00 Tongu Yumikesai (頓宮夕御饌祭): Evening offerings
19:00 Omikoshi Gyoretsu (御神輿行列) (お上り): Parade of portable shrines (ascent)
10:00 Hojoya Taisai (放生会大祭): Prayer to open the fourth day’s festivities (on a bigger scale than the opening ritual on all other days). 100 to 200 special guests are invited, and some wear shrine costumes.
15:00 Kenka-sai (献菓祭): A representative of Fukuoka brings ikebana (traditional Japanese floral arrangements), which are ceremonially placed in the main building as decoration.
9/16 (Mon., hol.)
9:00 Itsuka-sai (五日祭): Prayer to open the fifth day’s festivities.
11:00 Kencha-shiki: Prepared matcha tea is ceremonially handed over to shrine officials, who offer it to the gods.
10:00 Muika-sai (六日祭): Prayer to open the sixth day’s festivities.
11:00 Fukuya Kuyo Kigan-sai (ふくや供養祈願祭): Prayers for the deceased
10:00 Nousai (納祭): Prayer to open the final day’s festivities, Shanichi-sai 社日祭: Purification ritual that takes place on the day that falls closest to the autumnal equinox
14:00 Hojo Shinji (放生神事): Perhaps the most famous Hojoya ritual! Fish are released into the pond, and birds are released on stage. Children’s procession too.
The final day of Hojoya (9/18) coincides with the autumnal equinox festival. On this day, a ritual called oshioitori will be held at a beach (approximately 1 kilometer) from Hakozaki Shrine. People take home sand from the beach for good harvest, safety from calamities as well as safety of the entire household. Sand from this beach is also taken during the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival held during the first half of July for safety during the festivities.
• 9/18 (Wed.)
Omikoshi Gyoretsu (Goshinko, portable shrine procession)
Every two years, the Omikoshi Gyoretsu ritual is performed at Hakozaki Shrine. Three portable shrines carrying the gods of Hakozaki Shrine are paraded through the streets by around 500 shrine parishioners dressed in white robes. The parishioners begin preparing for the sacred ritual in spring to practice the parade formation that has been handed down over generations.
The portable shrines depart from Hakozaki Shrine at 6 pm on the evening of the 12th. The sound of bells and taiko drums reverberates throughout the grounds as the departure time approaches. The procession is led by a priest riding a white horse, and every time someone throws a coin in the coin box, the parishioners shake it as a sign of gratitude. The jangling of coins mixes with the sound of classical imperial court music, and the whole scene is akin to something from an ancient scroll painting.
The initial procession on Sep. 12 passes Yoshizuka Station at 7:30 pm and Hakozaki Elementary School at 9:20 pm before arriving at a temporary shrine near Higashi Ward Office at 9:45 pm. All told, it takes nearly four hours to complete.
During the return procession on the 14th, the shrines are carried back to Hakozaki Shrine in about one hour. With the shrines still held aloft, the parishioners run the final several hundred meters into the shrine as fast as they can, making for a spectacle that wows the crowd.
Since it doesn’t happen every year, the Omikoshi Gyoretsu is a must-see event.
• 9/12 (Wed.) 18:00~21:45
• 9/14 (Sat.) 19:00~20:10
Orio Kagura is the forerunner of a dragon dance called iwami kagura, which wowed the audience at the Osaka World Expo 1970. This year at Hojoya, witness Orio Kagura on 9/15 (Sun.) at 14:30. With its beautiful costumes and intense movements this dance will surely liven up the festival!
The squeamish should perhaps give these stalls a miss. Otherwise, grab a fishing rod, catch an eel, and then hand it over to the cook, who will turn it into dinner. If eel isn’t your meal of choice, you can also fish for crayfish and crabs. But if you’d rather hunt for new friendships than dinner, you can fish for turtles and goldfish and then take them home with you.
A staple of Japanese teen romance stories, these haunted houses provide a great excuse for couples to cosy up, and for friends to bond over the hammer horror-esque scares. Afterwards, you can reward yourself for your bravery with a sprinkle-covered chocolate banana, some takoyaki, or any of the other delicious festival treats on offer.
500 street stalls, stretching all the way to the bay
No Japanese festival is complete without street stalls! As many as 500 street stalls line the road approaching Hakozaki Shrine. Have your fill of traditional festival food such as fried squid, cotton candy, sweets, and Instagram-worthy curly fried potatoes. The stalls will be lit up at sundown, adding to the festive atmosphere.
From the pinball-like game “smart ball” to mini shooting ranges, there’s so much to do. Many stalls have prizes up for grabs, so bring your A game!
A must-see during Hojoya are the chanpon. These glass toys make a gentle popping sound when you blow into them (hence the onomatopoeic name: the popping sounds like “chan,” “pon”). The glass is handmade by designated craftsmen and are then painstakingly hand painted by the miko (shrine maidens) and are limited in number (1,400 in total). The chanpon range in size (from 15 cm high to 33 cm) and in design, with a limited number of special chanpon (those with unusual stems or with a tassel attached; 100 in total). Be warned that people begin to line up early in the morning; but if you are an early bird, then a chanpon will set you back ¥3,000 ~ ¥9,000.
There were once many ginger fields near Hakozaki Shrine before the war, and bundles of ginger made popular presents for merchants to bring home to their wives back in Hakata. Upholding the traditions of the festival, many stalls still sell fresh whole ginger – stalk and all!
3 min. walk from Fukuoka Subway Hakozaki-Miyamae Sta., 8 min. walk from JR Hakozaki Sta., 3 min. walk from Nishitetsu Bus Hakozaki stop.
• 9/12 (Thu.) ~ 9/18 (Wed.)
• 10:00~22:00 (approx.)
• Free entry
• Hakozaki Shrine
• 1-22-1 Hakozaki, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka
• By subway (Hakozaki-Miyamae Sta.): 9 min. from Tenjin, 7 min. from Nakasu-Kawabata, 4 min. from Kaizuka (*there will be additional trains on the Hakozaki Subway Line from 9/15 ~ 9/17)
• By JR Kyushu bus: Ride a bus going to Nogata and get off at Hakozaki 1-chome bus stop. 2 min. walk from there.
Updated August 2019.
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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 Jul. 2016.