Summer is a time for festivals in Japan, and as July approaches people throughout Fukuoka and other parts of Kyushu begin to prepare for one of Fukuoka City’s most spectacular events, the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival. This festival began about 760 years ago, and it is centered on Kushida Shrine in the Gion (Hakata) area. It has become very well-known throughout Japan, and has received an “Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property” designation from the national government.
Starting on July 1st, elaborately decorated 10-meter-tall yamakasa parade floats are set up around the city. On July 15, races begin along a 5-km course (starting at 4:59 a.m. and continuing for 1 hour) with 1-ton floats each carried by about 100 men–about 26-28 men carry each float at one time, and they switch off when they get tired. The men wear tiny (and very revealing) loincloths, which is why it is known as one of Japan’s “naked man” festivals. Carriers fly through the streets to the beats of drums, their floats’ lanterns illuminated brightly, while spectators splash the teams of men with water and shout out encouragement. (A note to all potential spectators: you will probably get wet if you attend the races.)
Most of the festival activities take place around Kushida Shrine (where a giant yamakasa float is on display year-round), located between Nakasu and the Hakata Station in the Gion district. Buses and trains run throughout the night to accommodate festival-goers. The race route for the July 15 event can be viewed here (only in Japanese). More detailed information is available in English on the “Yokonavi” Fukuoka/Hakata Tourism Information Site’s page.