Now Reports

The Origins of the Dontaku Song

One of the most exciting carnivals in Japan, Hakata Donkatu, has its own theme song called “Bonchikawaiya.” Where exactly did it come from and who discovered this tune? It’s said to have originally been part of “Shiritori”, a traditional word game popular during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

A figure who played an important role in the tale of the Dontaku song is Kawaharada Heibei, a Hakata merchant who lived in the middle of the Meiji Period (1868-1912). He was the third son of the owner of a stationery shop, “Heisukefude Fukodo”, with roots in the early 16th century (this store still exists today). Because he was not obliged to take over his parents’ business, Heibei moved to Tokyo to receive training at the sweet shop “Eitaro Amehonpo.” Upon completion, he returned to Hakata and opened his own confectionary shop, “Eishodo”, inspired by the lyrics of the Hakata Yamakasa Festival chant ‘Eishoe, Eishoe.’ He obviously loved Yamakasa very much and was fond of puns and matsuri! Even during his years in Tokyo he used to assemble Hakata people – who called themselves ‘Chikushi Folks’ (Chikushi was a place in Fukuoka at that time) – to join in the celebrations of several festivals in Tokyo, Kanda and Shiba.

His passion for festivals continued and Heibei asked the successor of his father’s stationery store to sponsor the establishment of Kyushu’s first brass band club. This club later participated in Hakata Dontaku, laden with trumpets, drums and gold-buttoned outfits. They performed the same song that Heibei had become familiar with when playing “Shiritori” during his Tokyo days, but he reworked the tune to better suit it to Hakata culture. Up to this day, it remains the trademark of the Dontaku festivities. So why don’t you learn and practize this song too and join the festival with flare!

Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn101, May. 2007)


Art & Culture
Fukuoka City
Published: May 1, 2007 / Last Updated: Jun 13, 2017

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