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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 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 (1868-1912), 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 to 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 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 short walk from Kushida Shrine Station (1 minutes, 210 yen from Hakata by Nanakuma Subway Line) and Canal City Hakata or a 15-20 minute walk from Hakata Station.

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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 Tsunashiki Temman-gu Shrine, 400 metres from Hakata Traditional Craft and Design Museum and 400 metres from Kawabata Shopping Arcade. This 4-star hotel offers a concierge service, luggage storage space and free WiFi. The property is 3.5 km from the city centre and 400 metres from Reisen Park. At the hotel, all rooms have a desk, a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom, bed linen and towels. The rooms come with a kettle, while some rooms also offer a kitchen with a dishwasher, a microwave and a stovetop. All guest rooms will provide guests with a fridge. Popular points of interest near Hotel Great Morning include Ryugu-ji Temple, Hakatamachiya Furusatokan Museum and Zendo-ji Temple. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 4 km from the accommodation.
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    • Miyako Hotel Hakata
      Luxury
      Open from September 2019, only 150 metres from JR Hakata Train Station, Miyako Hotel Hakata offers stylish rooms with a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. Free WiFi is available throughout the property. The famous Nanzoin Temple is a 30-minute train ride away. The air-conditioned rooms at Miyako Hotel Hakata come with pyjamas and slippers. Guests can relax in the bathtub or watch a pay TV programme. Miyako Hotel Hakata is a 3-minute walk from the popular electronic megastore Yodobashi Hakata, and it is a 15-minute walk from Tocho-ji Temple. The Tenjin area is a 5-minute subway ride from nearby Hakata Station, and Fukuoka Airport is just a 5-minute subway ride away. Fukuoka Castle is 5.5 km away, and the lively Nakasu area is 2.5 km from the property. A bar and cafe lounge are also on site.
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    • A.T. Hotel Hakata
      Mid-range
      Conveniently situated in the centre of Fukuoka, A.T. Hotel Hakata is within 1.2 km of Higashisumiyoshi Park and 1.8 km of Otowa Park. The property is around 1.9 km from Konko Church - Minami Ward, 2.1 km from Kamimuta Park and 2.1 km from Nakahie Park. Free WiFi is available and private parking can be arranged at an extra charge. At the hotel, each room is equipped with a wardrobe. Certain rooms include a kitchen with a fridge, a microwave and a stovetop. A.T. Hotel Hakata offers 3-star accommodation with a hot tub and terrace. Popular points of interest near the accommodation include Mizuho Park, Ninjin Park and Hie Park. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 2 km from A.T. Hotel Hakata.
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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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    • Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel Fukuoka
      Luxury
      Only a 3-minute walk from Tenjin Subway Station and offering direct access to it, Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel Fukuoka provides Western-style accommodations and free WiFi access. The air-conditioned rooms feature carpeted floors, a flat-screen satellite TV and a air purifier. A fridge and an electric kettle with green tea bags are included in each. Room wears are provided for all guests, while the en suite bathroom comes with a hairdryer. Services such as dry cleaning and currency exchange are provided at the 24-hour front desk. Hotel Nishitetsu Solaria is a 10-minute drive from Ohori Park and JR Hakata Train Station. Canal City Hakata is a 5-minute drive away and Fukuoka Airport is a 15-minute drive away.
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    • THE BLOSSOM HAKATA Premier
      Luxury
      Ideally set in Fukuoka, THE BLOSSOM HAKATA Premier features air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi and private parking. Well located in the Hakata Ward district, this hotel offers a restaurant, as well as a sauna. Sugawara Shrine is less than 1 km away and Meiji Park is a 9-minute walk from the hotel. All rooms at the hotel are fitted with a flat-screen TV with satellite channels and a safety deposit box. At THE BLOSSOM HAKATA Premier the rooms are fitted with bed linen and towels. Speaking both English and Japanese, staff at the reception can help you plan your stay. Popular points of interest near the accommodation include Fujita Park, Kushida Shrine and Hakata Gion Yamakasa. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 4 km from THE BLOSSOM HAKATA Premier.
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    • Nishitetsu Hotel Croom Hakata Gion Kushida Shrine
      Luxury
      Conveniently located in the centre of Fukuoka, Nishitetsu Hotel Croom Hakata Gion Kushida Shrine offers air-conditioned rooms, a terrace and a restaurant. This 4-star hotel offers luggage storage space. Private parking is available on site. At the hotel, all rooms are equipped with a desk and a flat-screen TV. Every room includes a kettle, while selected rooms also offer a kitchenette with a microwave. At Nishitetsu Hotel Croom Hakata Gion Kushida Shrine all rooms include bed linen and towels. Speaking English, Japanese and Korean at the reception, staff are always on hand to help. Popular points of interest near the accommodation include Kushida Shrine, Hakata Gion Yamakasa and Fujita Park. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 4 km from Nishitetsu Hotel Croom Hakata Gion Kushida Shrine.
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    • Guest House Nakaima
      Budget-friendly
      Conveniently located 5 minutes away on foot from Gion Station, Guest House Nakaima is located in Hakata District of Fukuoka. Free WiFi is available in all guest rooms. Touchouji Temple is 500 m from Guest House Nakaima. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 4 km from Guest House Nakaima.
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    • GRAND BASE Hakata Sumiyoshi
      Mid-range
      Attractively set in the Hakata Ward district of Fukuoka, GRAND BASE Hakata Sumiyoshi is situated less than 1 km from Ninjin Park, a 10-minute walk from Sugawara Shrine and less than 1 km from Higashisumiyoshi Park. With free WiFi, this 3-star aparthotel offers a lift and full-day security. The property is 600 metres from Fujifilm Photo Salon Fukuoka, and within 2.5 km of the city centre. Accommodation is fitted with air conditioning, a fully equipped kitchenette, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with bath, slippers and a hair dryer. There is also a microwave, fridge and a kettle. All units in the aparthotel are fitted with free toiletries and a smartphone. Popular points of interest near the aparthotel include Sumiyoshi Shrine, Otowa Park and Meiji Park. The nearest airport is Fukuoka Airport, 3 km from GRAND BASE Hakata Sumiyoshi.
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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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