One sure sign that autumn is coming soon to Fukuoka-Hakata is the Hojoya festival. With the Hakata Gion Yamakasa and the Hakata Dontaku, it is one of the three most important festivals in the area.
The Hojoya festival is said to have originated in the year 720 at the Usa Hachiman-gu Shinto Shrine in Oita to commemorate the war dead. Since then, the festival has been an event for honoring the living. It is held in Fukuoka every year from September 12 – 18 at the Hakozakigu Shinto Shrine in Higashi Ward. The main path of the shrine is lined with open air stalls, and it is well known for being the only time that Hakata champon is sold at Hakozakigu.
Each of the approximately 700 stalls that extend to the Hakozaki beach offer distinctive attractions, such as unique products, shooting galleries, ring tosses, and yo-yo fishing enjoyed until night. One of the noted products sold at this time is freshly harvested ginger. There were many ginger fields in the area near the shrine until just before the war. The goryon-san, housewives in commercial establishments who combined work and family responsibilities, frequently shopped here for gifts, and this is still an established practice for Hakatakko.
Other popular items include the Hakata champon and the toys of thin glass tubes that make a distinctive sound when blown into. Each are painstakingly hand painted by the miko shrine maidens, and sold for a limited time. They are such a popular item every year that people start to line up early every morning to buy them. Then there is the Hojoya hajiki, small pieces two centimeters in diameter that are used for a game resembling tiddlywinks. Since 1979, they’ve been made by artisans of the local Hakata ningyo doll association using the same earthen materials and process. This item is so popular it is usually sold out in the morning of the festival’s first day
Until 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 the food and dinnerware to the parties, turning them into large picnics. These were called makudashi, and groups today are trying to keep alive the Hakatakko spirit by recreating these makudashi. Enjoy the festival any way you like, but be sure not to miss it.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn141, Sep. 2010)