The history of one of Hakata’s best known festivals, the Hakata Gion Yamakasa held in July, dates back more than 700 years. It is a compelling sight to watch loincloth-clad men run at full speed through the city with the elaborately decorated floats on their shoulders, shouting Osshoi, Osshoi. This festival is conducted by organizations called nag are.
The nagare originated in the urban redistricting conducted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587 to promote the recovery of a Hakata devastated by civil strife. The city was reorganized into several blocs, and those units were called nagare. The seven nagare still conduct the Yamakasa today. They are Ebisu, Daikoku, Doi, Higashi, Nishi, Nakasu, and Chiyo.
The geographical organization of the nagare is based on the street layout, which is unusual for a Japanese community today. In the normal Japanese urban district, the people who see each other from across the street every day may be part of a different community. Organizing the communities by street enables people who regularly associate with each other to become involved in different activities together. The nagare unit is the basis for other events in addition to the Yamakasa.
The concept of a street-based urban district also makes it easier for first-time visitors and foreigners to navigate their way through the city. Streets are given names in Western countries, and those streets are the basis for giving directions. A trial is being conducted in which streets in the Tenjin district and near Hakata Station are being given names. Isn’t it wonderful that the wisdom inherent in the idea of nagare centuries ago is still applicable today?
Originally published on Fukuoka Now online (July, 2012).