Autumn in Hakata is not complete without a trip to Hakozaki Shrine. Every year, more than a million people visit the shrine during the festival. The Hojoya festival originates from the teachings of the kami Hachiman, and has continued for more than 1,000 years to give thanks for the blessings of nature and the souls of living creatures, as well as for praying for successful businesses and safety for families.
Aside from observing Shinto rituals such as offering gifts to the gods, the biggest draw for modern visitors is the 500 or so stalls lining both sides of the approach to the shrine. The variety of stalls goes beyond typical festival fare such as candied apples, fried squid, yakitori and takoyaki, to stalls with goldfish catching, pinball-like game, “smart ball” and other games, and the even more-funny-than-scary “haunted houses”. Chanpon, glass instruments intricately hand painted by miko (shrine maidens) are one of the most popular and iconic souvenirs of the festival. This year, visitors can buy them at the shrine fudasho (where omamori are sold) for the duration of the festival, starting from 7:30 a.m. on Sep. 12. The festival is at its busiest between 18:00 and 20:00, and especially on weekends. Some stalls start to close up at around 21:00 (with the latest staying until around 23:00), but the area is often busy until 22:00. Also, some stalls close much earlier on the last day, so we advise going early!
Hojoya Festival is celebrated at Hakozaki Shrine every year between Sep. 12 and 18. For more info, photos and the schedule of what’s on, read on!
The Hojoya Festival is said to have originated in the year 720 at the Usa Hachimangu Shinto Shrine in Oita, and was originally 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. The first Hojoya Festival at Hakozakigu Shrine was held in 919 AD. 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 freeing 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.
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, to dance, to Japanese drumming, to trained monkey performances! Here is this year’s schedule (subject to change):
13:00 Dedication performance
17:00 Fukuoka Kanbe Girls (idol group)
19:00 Live acoustic performance by Kyushu Visual Arts Student Band
11:00 Street performance by Kyushu Street Performance Troupe
18:00 Dedication performance
13:00 Southern style folk group
15:30 Dedication performance
17:30 Hakata Niwaka (traditional comedy) by Hakata Niwaka Dojo
20:00 Blue Rains (The Ventures cover band)
13:00 Koto performance※
14:00 Martial arts performance
15:00 Makudashi by Hakata Chonin Bunka Renmei
16:00 Wadaiko (Japanese drum) performance by Hakata Bishin Taiko
17:30 Hakofes 2018 (Hakonowa Dance by Ryohei Kondo)
19:00 Buzen Kagura by Yamauchi Kagurako (Designated Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property)
12:00 Martial arts performance
13:00 Dedication performance
14:30 Orio Kagura (Shinto music and dance)
19:00 Hakata koma (spinning top) performance by Hakata Koma Hozonkai
20:00 Wadaiko (Japanese drum) performance by Hakata Kinjinshi Taiko
9:00 Martial arts (karate) performance by Goshinjutsu Karatedo Ryusuikai
10:30 Dedication performance
12:00 Martial arts (karate) performance by Japan Karate Association Fukuoka Headquarters
13:00 Dedication performance
14:00 Hula dance
15:00 Fukuoka Kanbe Girls (idol group)
17:00 Cruise! (idol group)
19:00 Raspberry Dream (band)
12:00 Jazz guitar performance by Masa Nakagawa
16:00 Aimaimoko and Monoqlopanda (band)
18:30 Hakozaki kyoshitsu (classroom) presentation (how to experience Noh)※
19:00 Karaoke performance
※Items with this mark will be held at the haiden (front shrine).
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. Here is this year’s schedule:
10:00 Shonichisai (初日祭): Prayer to open the first day’s festivities
14:00 Kenkasai (献菓祭): Offering sweets to the gods
10:00 Futsukasai (二日祭): Prayer to open the second day’s festivities.
10:00 Mikkasai (三日祭): Prayer to open the third day’s festivities.
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.
15:00 Kenkasai (献菓祭): A representative of Fukuoka brings ikebana (traditional Japanese floral arrangements), which are ceremonially placed in the main building as decoration.
9:00 Itsukasai (五日祭): Prayer to open the fifth day’s festivities.
11:00 Kencha Shiki: Prepared matcha tea is ceremonially handed over to shrine officials, who offer it to the gods.
10:00 Muika-sai (六日祭): Prayer to open the sixth day’s festivities.
11:00 Fukuya Kuyo Kigansai (ふくや供養祈願祭): Prayers for the deceased
10:00 Nosai (納祭): Prayer to open the final day’s festivities, with a procession
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.
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 9/16 (Sun.) at 14:30. With its beautiful costumes and intense movements this dance will surely liven up the festival!
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.
500 street stalls, stretching all the way to the bay
No Japanese festival is complete without street stalls! As many as 500 street stalls line the road approaching Hakozaki Shrine. Have your fill of traditional festival food such as fried squid, cotton candy, sweets, and Instagram-worthy curly fried potatoes. The stalls will be lit up at sundown, adding to the festive atmosphere.
From the pinball-like game “smart ball” to mini shooting ranges, there’s so much to do. Many stalls have prizes up for grabs, so bring your A game!
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 “chanpon, chanpon”). The glass is handmade by designated craftsmen and are then painstakingly hand painted by the miko (shrine maidens). The chanpon range in size (from 15 cm high to 33 cm) and in design, with regular chanpon for ¥3,000 ~ ¥9,000 and kawari (twisted) chanpon for ¥6,000.
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!
3 min. walk from Fukuoka Subway Hakozaki-Miyamae Sta., 8 min. walk from JR Hakozaki Sta., 3 min. walk from Nishitetsu Bus Hakozaki stop.
• 9/12 (Wed.) ~ 9/18 (Tue.)
• 10:00~22:00 (approx.)
• Free entry
• Hakozakigu Shrine
• 1-22-1 Hakozaki, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka
• By subway (Hakozaki-Miyamae Sta.): 9 min. from Tenjin, 7 min. from Nakasu-Kawabata, 4 min. from Kaizuka (*there will be additional trains on the Hakozaki Subway Line from 9/15 ~ 9/17)
• By JR Kyushu bus: Ride a bus going to Nogata and get off at Hakozaki 1-chome bus stop. 2 min. walk from there.
Updated August 2018.
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NOTE: The information presented here was gathered and summarized by the Fukuoka Now staff. While we have done our best to check for accuracy, there might be errors and details may have changed. If you notice any errors or changes, please contact us. This report was originally written in Jul. 2016.