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The Hakata Gion Yamakasa (博多祇園山笠) 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 weigh 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.

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.

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.

Getting there and around

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

Hotels around Fukuoka

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    • Hotel Great Morning
      Luxury
      Conveniently located in the Hakata Ward district of Fukuoka, Hotel Great Morning is set 200 metres from Reisen Park, 200 metres from Tsunashiki Temman-gu Shrine and 400 metres from Hakata Traditional Craft and Design Museum. Among the facilities at this property are a concierge service and luggage storage space, along with free WiFi throughout the property. The hotel has family rooms. At the hotel, all rooms have a desk, a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom, bed linen and towels. All guest rooms will provide guests with a wardrobe and a kettle. A continental breakfast is available every morning at Hotel Great Morning. Popular points of interest near the accommodation include Kawabata Shopping Arcade, Ryugu-ji Temple and Hakatamachiya Furusatokan Museum. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 4 km from Hotel Great Morning.
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    • Hostel TOKI
      Budget-friendly
      Featuring a shared lounge, Hostel TOKI is located in Fukuoka, 1.2 km from Shofuku-ji Temple. The property is situated 1.6 km from Tocho-ji Temple. Guests can make use of a bar. Rooms at the hostel also have free WiFi. Shower and toilet facilities are shared with other guests. All guest rooms will provide guests with a fridge. Kego Shrine is 2 km from Hostel TOKI. Fukuoka Airport is 3 km away.
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    • Yagura Hostel
      Budget-friendly
      Yagura Hostel is set in Fukuoka, 2.2 km from Momochihama Beach and 1 km from Ohori Park. Featuring a shared lounge, the 1-star hostel has air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi, each with a shared bathroom. The accommodation offers a shared kitchen and luggage storage space for guests. All rooms in the hostel are fitted with a kettle. All guest rooms feature a safety deposit box. Yagura Hostel offers a sun terrace. The accommodation provides a laundry service, as well as business facilities like fax and photocopying. Popular points of interest near Yagura Hostel include Maizuru Park, Terumo Jinja Shrine and Fukuoka Castle. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 6 km from the hostel.
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    • A.T. Hotel Hakata
      Mid-range
      Conveniently situated in the centre of Fukuoka, A.T. Hotel Hakata provides air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi and private parking. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with a terrace. Guests can use the hot tub, or enjoy city views. At the hotel, each room is equipped with a wardrobe and a TV. Guest rooms will provide guests with a microwave. Popular points of interest near A.T. Hotel Hakata include Higashisumiyoshi Park, Otowa Park and Mizuho Park. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 3 km from the accommodation.
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    • TEN APARTMENT HOTEL
      Budget-friendly
      Set in Fukuoka, near Bic Camera Tenjin 2nd Store, The Shops and Imaizumi Park, TEN APARTMENT HOTEL features free WiFi. Fitted with a terrace, the units offer air conditioning and feature a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with bidet and slippers. A microwave, a fridge and stovetop are also offered in the kitchen, as well as a kettle. Popular points of interest near the aparthotel include Iwataya, Kego Park and Kego Shrine. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 5 km from TEN APARTMENT HOTEL.
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    • GRAND BASE Hakata Sumiyoshi
      Mid-range
      Situated in Fukuoka, near Fujifilm Photo Salon Fukuoka, Ninjin Park and Sumiyoshi Shrine, GRAND BASE Hakata Sumiyoshi features free WiFi. Accommodation is fitted with air conditioning, a fully equipped kitchenette, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with shower, slippers and a hairdryer. A microwave and fridge are also available, as well as a kettle. Popular points of interest near the aparthotel include Sugawara Shrine, Otowa Park and Meiji Park. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 3 km from GRAND BASE Hakata Sumiyoshi.
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    • Hotel Marinoa Resort Fukuoka
      Luxury
      Looking over Hakata Bay and a yacht harbor, Hotel Marinoa Resort Fukuoka features spacious guest rooms with an ocean view, a relaxation spa and a stylish French restaurant. This hotel is located right next to Marinoa City Fukuoka outlet shopping mall. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the property. Each room is fitted with a comfortable sofa and a balcony, and in-room facilities include a flat-screen TV, a fridge and an electric kettle. Some rooms feature a DVD player or a coffee machine. Guests can enjoy an ocean view from the balcony or while soaking in a bath. Two complimentary bottles of mineral water are provided daily. Fukuoka Marinoa Resort Hotel offers a 24-hour front desk, car rentals and laundry services. Drinks and snacks vending machines are available on site. Free parking is available. The hotel is a 40-minute bus ride from JR Hakata Shinkansen (bullet train) Station. Fukuoka Tower and Momochi Bayside Park can both be reached within a 15-minute bus ride. On-site Bleu Ciel restaurant serves original French dishes prepared with local seafood and other seasonal ingredients.
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    • HOTEL COCON
      Mid-range
      Located in Fukuoka, near Imaizumi Park, Bic Camera Tenjin 1st Store and Sumiyoshi Shrine, HOTEL COCON features free WiFi. Every unit features a private bathroom and bidet, air conditioning, a flat-screen TV and a microwave. A fridge and kettle are also provided. Popular points of interest near the aparthotel include Sugawara Shrine, Bic Camera Tenjin 2nd Store and Kego Park. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 4 km from HOTEL COCON.
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    • Zen・Oyado Nishitei
      Mid-range
      Featuring a garden, Zen・Oyado Nishitei is set in Fukuoka in the Fukuoka region, 1.1 km from Imaizumi Park and 1.4 km from Bic Camera Tenjin 2nd Store. Featuring a restaurant, the 3-star ryokan has air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi, each with a shared bathroom. The ryokan features family rooms. All guest rooms in the ryokan are fitted with a kettle. The units in Zen・Oyado Nishitei are equipped with a flat-screen TV and free toiletries. Popular points of interest near the accommodation include Bic Camera Tenjin 1st Store, Sumiyoshi Shrine and Fujifilm Photo Salon Fukuoka. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 4 km from Zen・Oyado Nishitei.
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    • 善き羊飼いの舎
      Budget-friendly
      善き羊飼いの舎 offers accommodation in Fukuoka. Smoking is strictly prohibited in the rooms as well as in surrounding areas within the property. All rooms are fitted with a private bathroom fitted with a bath or shower. Extras include free toiletries and a hairdryer. There is luggage storage space at the property. Shofuku-ji Temple is 4.3 km from 善き羊飼いの舎, while Tocho-ji Temple is 5 km from the property. Fukuoka Airport is 2 km away.
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