Autumn in Hakata would be incomplete without a visit to Hakozaki Shrine. Drawing over a million visitors each year during the festival, the Hojoya Festival has its origins in the teachings of the kami Hachiman. It has continued for more than 1,100 years, offering thanks for nature’s blessings, honoring the souls of living creatures, and praying for business success and family safety.
This year is special, as it marks the occasion for the Divine Procession known as Omikoshi Gyoretsu (Gojinko, portable shrine procession), an event held once every two years (in odd-numbered years). Preserving the traditions of the Edo period, this procession has been designated as one of Fukuoka City’s intangible folk cultural assets. Around 500 parishioners will partake in the service on September 12th and 14th.
Beyond observing Shinto rituals such as offering gifts to the deities, the festival attracts modern visitors with around 500 stalls lining the path to the shrine. These stalls offer much more than typical festival treats like candied apples, fried squid, yakitori, and takoyaki. There are also game stalls featuring goldfish catching, pinball-like games, “smart ball,” and even amusing, rather than scary, “haunted houses.”
The Hojoya Festival is celebrated at Hakozaki Shrine every year between September 12th and 18th. For more information, photos, and a schedule of events, continue reading on!
Hojoya history and festival highlights in English and Japanese
Hojoya Festival Guide 2023
Presented by Hakozaki Shrine
Hakozaki Shrine Hojoya Festival
• 9/12 (Tue.) ~ 9/18 (Mon., hol.)
• Hakozaki Shrine
• 1-22-1 Hakozaki, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka
• Fukuoka City Subway “Hakozaki-Miyamae Sta.”: There is an entrance to the subway station on the approach to the shrine. 3 min. walk to the main hall of Hakozaki Shrine
• JR Kagoshima Main Line “Hakozaki Sta.”: 8 min. walk to Hakozaki Shrine.
Hojoya Festival Guide Index
• Shrine Ceremonies & Events Schedule
• Omikoshi Gyoretsu (Gojinko, portable shrine procession)
• Orio Kagura
• Haunted House
• Fresh Ginger
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. It is said to have been held in Fukuoka since 919 AD at the current location of Hakozaki Shrine, which was considered a sacred place since ancient times. 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.
Shrine Ceremonies & Stage Events Schedules
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.
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):
00:00 Shonichi-sai (初日祭): Prayer to open the first day’s festivities.
11:00 Kubara Honke Kuyo-sai (久原本家供養祈願祭): Prayers for the deceased
15:00 Hongu Yumikesai (本宮夕御饌祭): Evening offerings
18:00 Omikoshi Gyoretsu (御神幸行列、お下り): Parade of portable shrines (descent)
19:00 Live acoustic performance by KVA graduates
10:00 Tongu Asamikesai (頓宮朝御饌祭): Morning offerings
11:00 Street performance by Kyushu Street Performance Troupe
13:00 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.
15:00 Tongu Yummikesai (頓宮夕御饌祭): Evening offerings
10:00 Tongu Asamikesai (頓宮朝御饌祭): Morning offerings
13:00 Tongu Yummikesai (頓宮夕御饌祭): Evening offerings
13:00 Dedication performance by Shuko-kai
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.
13:00 Jazz Solo Guitar performance by Masa Nakagawa
15:00 Kenka-sai (献華祭): A representative of Fukuoka brings ikebana (traditional Japanese floral arrangements), which are ceremonially placed in the main building as decoration.
15:00 Dedication performance by Hakata Koyo Hozon-kai
16:00 Dedication performance by Hitomi Nakagawa
19:00 Hakata koma (spinning top) performance by Hakata Koma Hozonkai
20:00 Wadaiko (Japanese drum) performance by Hakata Kinjinshi Taiko
9:00 Itsuka-sai (五日祭): Prayer to open the fifth day’s festivities.
10:30 Wadaiko (Japanese drum) performance (Hakata Bishin Taiko)
11:00 Kencha-shiki (献茶式): Prepared matcha tea is ceremonially handed over to shrine officials, who offer it to the gods.
12:00 Hakofes 2023 (dance performance by Sepbst, Pappimache, SSSG: The 20th Hojoya Special Event Executive Committee)
12:30 Koto performance *it will be held at the haiden (front shrine).
14:00 Martial arts performance by the Japan Karate Association Fukuoka Headquarters
15:00 Hakata Niwaka by Hakata Niwaka Dojo
15:00 Makudashi (banquet) by Hakata Chonin Bunka Renmei
16:00 Dedication performance by Hakata Nanotsu-kai, Wabunka Geino Ichigo Ichie Shinsuke Ikewaki)
17:00 Martial arts performance by Fujiryu-Taijutsu
18:00 Martial arts performance by Hogyokukai Mugairyu
19:00 Buzen Kagura (Yamauchi Kagura)
10:00 Muika-sai (六日祭): Prayer to open the sixth day’s festivities.
10:00 Martial arts performance by Ryusuikai Karate
11:00 Fukuya Kuyo Kigan-sai (ふくや供養祈願祭): Prayers for the deceased
11:00 Wadaiko (Japanese drum) performance (Nowa Taiko）
12:30 Hula dance
14:00 Dedication performance by Miehide-kai
17:00 Orio Kagura
20:00 Band Live by Raspberry Dream
9/18 (Mon., hol.)
10:00 Nousai (納祭): Prayer to open the final day’s festivities
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.
18:00 Dedication performance by Hanayagi Sumena-kai
19:30 The Ventures cover band performance by Blue Rains
9/12~9/18 (Exhibited in the corridor)
• Bonbori votive lanterns (votive lanterns dedicated to famous persons at Fukuoka & Hakata)
• Ikenobo Ikebana Exhibition
• Exhibitions of Hojoya chanpon and ohajiki
Omikoshi Gyoretsu (Gojinko, 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.
>> Hakozaki Shrine Gojinko Parade Map 2023 PDF (routes & timeline)
Kyushu Live – Hojoya Festival – The 1st Night & Gojinko Procession – 2023 (Sep. 12, 2023 17:30~)
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 9/17 (Sun.) at 17:00~ on a stage to be set up in the precincts of the shrine. With its beautiful costumes and intense movements this dance will surely liven up the festival!
*Admission is free, but basic seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
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.
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 scene of shrine maidens putting the finishing touches on the chanpon was once known as the scene that signaled the beginning of the autumn season. However, due to the retirement of the chanpon makers, this event has not been held since 2020. The glasswork chanpon will be displayed in the corridor surrounding the main shrine during the Hojoya Festival.
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!
Kyushu Live – Hakozaki Shrine Hojoya Festival 2022 (Sep. 12, 2022)
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