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Home - Travel - Sightseeing Guide - Kyushu - Fukuoka
Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival 
# 7   of 8 most visited
sights in Fukuoka

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Report from the 2011 Festival

The Hakata Gion Yamakasa (_R}) is one of the most interesting festivals in Japan. It is held every year during the first half of July and climaxes with a spectacular time trial race in the early morning hours of July 15. In the race, seven neighborhoods of Fukuoka's Hakata district compete in pushing beautifully decorated festival floats along a five kilometer long course through the city.

The festival features two different types of floats:

The larger kazariyama floats stand over ten meters tall and weight over two tons. In the past they used to be raced through the streets, however, with the introduction of power lines in the Meiji Period, this became problematic, and today they only serve as decorative floats. 14 of them stand spread out across the city from July 1 to 14, including two at Hakata Station and Canal City Hakata.

A kazariyama float stands in a shopping arcade

For the race, smaller sized kakiyama floats, about five meters tall and one ton heavy, are used today. There are seven of them, one for each of the neighborhoods participating in the race. The floats do not have wheels and are dragged through the streets, while water is spread in front of the float in order to reduce friction between the float and the road surface (and cool down the participants).

From July 10 to 14, the seven teams hold several practice runs and parades in preparation for the main race. A good English festival booklet is available with detailed maps and time schedules for these events which are interesting to watch. On July 15 just after 1am, all teams line up behind the start line, which is located in front of Kushida Shrine, the festival's host shrine.

The kakiyama floats line up at the start

On July 15 at 4:59am, just before sunrise, the first team starts into the race, followed by the other teams in five minute intervals. Despite the early time of the day, thousands of spectators line the five kilometer long course, which includes several tight turns and long stretches along both narrow lanes and broad streets. It takes each team roughly 30 minutes of intense effort to complete the course.

There is ample of space to see the race along its long course, except around some of the more spectacular sections, e.g. the start area, where people show up hours in advance to reserve good viewing spots. Paid seating is available in the small court yard of Kushida Shrine, where each team has to push its float around a pole, but high competition makes these seats virtually impossible to get.

A kakiyama float on the grounds of Kushida Shrine during a practice run

Any Questions? Ask them in our question forum.

How to get there
The festival takes place in the Hakata district of Fukuoka. Kushida Shrine is located a five minute walk from Canal City Hakata or Gion Subway Station, or a 15-20 minute walk from Hakata Station.

How to get to and around Fukuoka

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Hotels and Ryokan
Fukuoka offers a wide range of hotels. The Hakata Station area and the central Tenjin district are most convenient for exploring the city.
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Recommended Hotels around Fukuoka
Grand Hyatt Fukuoka
Luxury hotel inside the Canal City Hakata complex.
Reserve through
Agoda
Hotel Nikko Fukuoka
Comfortable 4-star hotel a short walk from Hakata Station.
Reserve through
Agoda or Booking
Hotel Route Inn Hakata Ekimae
Reliable business hotel just across Hakata Station.
Reserve through
Agoda or Booking

User Ratings
Ratings for Gion Yamakasa:
japan-guide.com Rating:
  best of Japan  
User Rating (by 42 users):
82/100
  recommended

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302.  Matsuyama Castle (Matsuyama)   82/100
303.  Sagano Railway (Kyoto)   82/100
304.  Gion Yamakasa (Fukuoka)   82/100
305.  Hama Rikyu (Tokyo)   82/100
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525.  Pola Museum (Hakone)   85
526.  Jomon Site (Aomori)   84
527.  Gion Yamakasa (Fukuoka)   84
528.  Science Museum (Nagoya)   84
529.  Chichu Museum (Naoshima)   83
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Japanese Links
Hakata Gion Yamakasa
Official website.

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