The Shudan Yamamise (Group Festival Float Display), which starts every year at 3:30 pm on July 13, is the only event in which the floats for the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival are moved outside the Hakata area, the merchants’ district, to the Fukuoka area, where the daimyo’s castle was once located. Shudan Yamamise began in 1962 at the request of Fukuoka City, whose mayor at the time was Genzo Abe. He wanted to create an opportunity for more residents and tourists to enjoy Yamakasa.
The race starts at an intersection in Gofuku-machi, Hakata Ward, and continues in a straight line over the Nishi Bridge on the Naka River to ACROS Fukuoka. It makes a left turn and continues from there to the front of the Fukuoka City municipal offices. The floats spread out along the 1.3 kilometer-long course on Meiji-dori, past the Hakata-za (theater) and the Nakasu district. The high speeds seen at the Shudan Yamamise can be attributed in part to its short distance compared to the five-kilometer oiyama. Thanks to the straight course which extends down a wide city street, the handlers can ramp up the speed until it seems as if they are galloping through town.
It is only during the Shudan Yamamise that the daiagari (the people who sit on the floats and direct the team carrying it) are well-known people from Fukuoka and Hakata. Mayor Yoshida will serve as the daiagari for the first float, from the Daikoku nagare (team). The team members for the first float are the only ones who can sing the Hakata Iwai Uta (Hakata Celebration Song), with the line “iwai medetaa no,” when they arrive at the end of the course. The sight of the group singing the song together in front of the municipal offices is a highlight of the event. There are usually six daiagari: three in the front and three in the rear. They have the important role of directing the float’s entire operation. The person designated as the leader of this group of six is the man sitting in the center of the front row.
The names of the people serving as daiagari are announced at the beginning of July. Well-known people who have served in this role in the past include Softbank president Masayoshi Son and architect Arata Isozaki. Participants say that taking part just once while dressed in the special clothing is enough to get a person hooked on the experience.