Seasonal Events and Traditions in Fukuoka

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival
Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival

This section provides an overview of some of the most popular events and seasonal traditions in and around Fukuoka City. Because these events offer a cultural experience that cannot be had through sightseeing alone, I recommend that all visitors consider including one of them in their itineraries.

First Sunrise of the Year from Fukuoka Tower (January 1)

Aside from visiting Shinto Shrines and spending time with family, viewing the first sunrise of the year (hatsu hinode) together with friends and loved ones is a popular tradition in Japan. Fukuoka Tower opens its doors for this important yearly event, giving viewers the chance to enjoy a view of the spectacular sunrise above Fukuoka City and Hakata Bay from the observatory deck at an elevation of 123 meters (403.5 feet).

  • Location: Fukuoka Tower
  • Time: tickets sales being at 4:30 a.m. and the tower opens at 5:30 a.m.
  • Cost: admission for non-Japanese visitors is 640 yen for adults, 400 yen for elementary and middle school students, 200 yen for children (age 4 or older), and 500 yen for senior citizens (age 65 or older)

Setsubun Festival at Kushida Shrine (February 3)

Considered to be the last day of winter in the traditional calendar, the Setsubun Festival is celebrated on February 3 throughout Japan. Fukuokans celebrate by visiting Kushida Shrine and throwing soy beans at dancing actors wearing devil masks as part of a Shinto cleansing ritual to drive away evil spirits. A large, white-painted Japanese female face is installed over the shrine gate entrance, and visitors enter through its mouth.

  • Location: Kushida Shrine, which is 5-7 min. on foot from exit 3 of Gion Station (Kuko Subway Line), or mere steps away from Kushida Jinja/Hakata Machiya Furusatokan-mae bus stop (“Green” loop bus)
  • Time: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Jojima Sake Festival (February 11)

This is probably Fukuoka’s largest nihonshu (Japanese sake) related event, and it is held every year on February 11 (National Foundation Day) in the southern Kurume area. Local sake breweries of this rural area open their doors to visitors, offering free and low-priced samples of many of their freshly made nihonshu and occasional fruit liqueurs as well as food cooked by staff and locals. A central event area is also set up so people can compare sake from different makers and enjoy traditional yatai food stall food found at many Japanese festivals. Although individual kurabiraki (open brewery events) are better for seasoned sake drinkers, Jojima is a great place for those who are interested in Japan’s most delicious drink but do not yet have much experience with it. Be warned, however, that this is a very crowded event, especially in the central event area (the individual breweries tend to be more enjoyable).

  • Location: Southern Kurume (Jojima) area. Take the Nishitetsu Tenjin-Omuta Line from Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station to Nishitetsu Mizuma Station (this station is closest) or the JR Kagoshima Main Line from Hakata Station to Araki Station. Free shuttle buses provide transport between the different event sites, although some sites are within walking distance of the station and each other. The shuttle buses tend to be very crowded, so taxis are a faster and less tiring option if you are with a group.
  • Recommendations: The central event area is a bit overrated and overcrowded, so I recommend visiting individual breweries instead. My personal favorites are Morinokura (杜の蔵), located right next to Mizuma Station, as well as Asahigiku (旭菊) and Hananotsuyu (花の露).

Plum Blossoms at Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine (Late February to late March)

Dazaifu is one of the most famous spots for viewing late-winter/early-spring plum blossoms in the Fukuoka City area. The area surrounding Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine has around 6,000 plum trees of 197 different varieties whose flowers blossom in various different shapes and colors for a beautiful spectacle. Not only do plum blossoms bring a brightness to the world that is absent throughout the dreary winter, they also provide a preview of sorts for the stunning spectacle of cherry blossoms to come later in the spring.

Spring Cherry Blossom Viewing (Late March to early April)

Cherry blossoms are one of Japan’s most famous natural symbols, and Fukuoka has plenty of great spots for viewing them during their short period of bloom in the spring. Although cherry trees begin to blossom early in March, the best time for viewing (full bloom) generally starts in late March or early April and last for about a week — everything depends on the weather that year. The Japanese tradition is to bring food, drinks (usually beer and chu-hi) and blankets/tarps outside and have picnics with friends or family under the trees.

Hakata Dontaku Port Festival (May 3-4)

Dontaku, an old citizens’ festival dating back 830 years, is one of Fukuoka’s largest and most important events. Decorative parade floats and participants dressed in traditional Hakata-style clothing precess down Meiji Boulevard from the old neighborhood of Gofukumachi to Tenjin in the city center, and performance stages and traditional festival food stalls are set up all over the city. Because this event is held during the “Golden Week” holiday period, around 2 million visitors attend each year.

  • Location: Many events are held in the Tenjin area, as well as in the Hakata Port area (near Bayside Place Hakata) and in front of Hakata Station

Beer Gardens (July)

Outdoor beer gardens open throughout the city during the summer, often on building rooftops in the central part of town. Although they tend to be overpriced from the perspective of most Europeans and North Americans, they do offer a good chance to enjoy cold beer and good eats along with cool breezes and sometimes even great views provided by rooftop dining areas.

  • Locations: the rooftop area of JR Hakata City, various buildings around Tenjin, and elsewhere

Beach (Ocean Swimming) Season (July and August)

Beach swimming can be enjoyed in Fukuoka from the end of the rainy season (usually early or mid-July) to mid- to late-August, when the jellyfish start to appear. Beach lounging, on the other hand, is usually possible from June or earlier (weather permitting) up through September. The more popular beaches have shops selling food and drinks right on the beach, beach umbrella rentals, bathroom shower facilities and more, although these tend to be available only during the peak swimming season.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival (July 15)

This festival, centering on Kushida Shrine in the Gion (Hakata) area, began about 760 years ago. It has become widely 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 are held along a 5-km course (starting at exactly 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. Yamakasa is one of the biggest festivals in Japan.

  • Location: Most of the festival activities take place around Kushida Shrine, which is 5-7 min. on foot from exit 3 of Gion Station (Kuko Subway Line), or mere steps away from Kushida Jinja/Hakata Machiya Furusatokan-mae bus stop (“Green” loop bus). A giant yamakasa float is on display here year-round. The races begin from Kushida Shrine and wind through the streets of the nearby neighborhoods. Buses and trains run throughout the night to accommodate festival-goers.
  • Time: the races start at exactly 4:59 a.m. and continue for one hour — many people simply stay out the whole night and head over to find a good viewing spot an hour or two before the races begin
  • Note: If you attend the race event on July 15, you will almost surely get wet because of all the water being thrown about.

Ohori Park Fireworks Display (August 1, but sometimes rescheduled due to weather)

Numerous firework festivals are held throughout the summer in and around Fukuoka, but the Ohori Park event is one of the best because of its colorful, long-lasting display of impressively large fireworks, which are reflected beautifully off of the park’s large pond. Furthermore, the fireworks are launched from the pond’s central island with viewers sitting around the pond’s perimeter, meaning that they can see and feel the explosions from a closer vantage point than at almost any other summer firework show. The result is one of Fukuoka’s most impressive pyrotechnic displays.

  • Location: Ohori Park (near Ohorikoen Station on the Kuko Subway Line)
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
  • Tip: Even though this event starts late in the evening, you will need to arrive in the afternoon or early evening if you want a place to sit (especially if you are attending as a group). Food and drinks are available at the event, but it is much more economical to buy your own snacks and drinks at a convenience store or supermarket in advance.

Nakasu Jazz (varies by year, but usually in late August / early September)

Despite being a relatively new event in Fukuoka, Nakasu Jazz has attracted tens of thousands of visitors each year. Live stages are set up around Tenjin and Nakasu for several days, and live jazz and swing performances are held for free at these outdoor venues. Although some music borders on pop and is meant for the more casual listener, talented jazz quartets also perform here and there, providing something for true jazz enthusiasts and musicians to listen to as well. The result is a laid-back city-center event where people wander the streets with drinks in hand, listening to cool music down by the river and enjoying the warm summer nights.

  • Location: Tenjin Central Park in Tenjin, the main street of Nakasu near Nakasu-Kawabata Station (Kuko Subway Line), and other venues in the Nakasu/Kawabata area
  • Time: generally from late afternoon or early evening until around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. on scheduled event dates (vary by year)

Professional Sumo Tournament (Honbasho(Mid-September)

The most important professional sumo wrestling tournaments (known as honbasho) are held in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka throughout the year, and although the Fukuoka tournament is smaller in scale than the others, it features the nation’s best sumo wrestlers and provides an opportunity to experience a deeply traditional and fascinating sport firsthand. Even if you are not a sports fan, you should see sumo once for the cultural experience alone.

  • Location: Fukuoka Kokusai Center (part of the Fukuoka Convention Center complex), located near the ferry terminals and Bayside Place Hakata. Take bus 80 from Tenjin (Solaria Stage-mae) or bus 88 or 99 from Hakata Station (Hakata-eki Sentaabiru-mae) to Kokusai-sentaa Sanparesu-mae bus stop (10-15 min., 180/220 yen) to get to Fukuoka Kokusai Center, and use one of the specially prepared buses waiting outside the venue after the event is over to get back to Tenjin / Hakata Station again afterward.
  • Event Period: the tournament last for 15 days, starting on the Sunday following the second Saturday of September
  • Ticket Cost: Prices range anywhere from 2,000 yen for non-reserved stadium seating to 22,600 yen for the most expensive reserved seating.

Hojoya (September 12-18)

Along with Dontaku and Yamakasa, Hojoya is one of Fukuoka’s three largest festivals, although it tends to be more standard-fare than the other two. Nevertheless, Hojoya provides a great opportunity to enjoy traditional festival yatai food stalls (about 700 in all), festival games, corny haunted houses and more. It is held along the approach to Hakozaki Shrine, and it was originally started as a way to pay respect to all living things.

  • Location: along the approach to Hakozaki Shrine, starting from Hakozakimiyamae Station (Hakozaki Subway Line)

Winter Illumination (December)

Sparkling lights illuminate central Fukuoka city during December in celebration of the Christmas season. The number of decorated areas as well as the scale of the decorations seems to be on the rise every year, making for new surprises every time December comes around. During the holiday period, Kego Park also features an ice skating rink, which was newly expanded with the park renovations completed in 2013.

  • Locations: The most impressive light displays are located on the west side of JR Hakata City (Hakata Station), in Kego Park near Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station, and in Canal City, although smaller displays can be found here and there throughout the city
Note: Image provided by Wikimedia Commons

One Response to Seasonal Events and Traditions in Fukuoka

  1. Nate says:

    Wow, I love this blog. I’d love to visit Kyushuu one day. I hear Fukuoka is the best city to live in Japan if you want to experience a mix between big city and more rural traditional Japan. This site will be off great use to me when I plan to visit my relatives in Nagasaki next Spring — for the first time.

    Where I live in L.A. there is a Hakata Ramen shop a few blocks away that is delicious and now I know it’s a Fukuoka tradition.

    Thank you

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