Fukuoka Japan is fast becoming a centre of cultural promotion an exchange. It is well known for its many spectacular festivals.
Fukuoka is famous for its many seasonal festivals and people from all over Japan and tourists from all over the world flock to witness these varied events that are celebrated on a grand scale throughout the year.
The New Year starts off with the Tamaseseri Festival which is celebrated on 3rd January at the Hakozaki Shrine. This is a Shinto ritual to ensure a good harvest for the farmers and a bountiful catch of fish for the fishermen. Shortly after noon on that day, two groups of men wearing traditional costumes called fundoshi – a kind of loin cloth, participate in this ritual, one group facing the sea and the other facing the land and the two teams scramble for a ball measuring 30 centimeters in diameter. It’s a boisterous affair to say the least.
The Toka Ebisu Festival takes place from 8 – 11 January and is held at the Shrine of the same name. This is another New Year Festival dedicated to Ebisu the God of commerce for assurance of a successful year ahead.
The Hakata Gion Yamakasa
Fukuoka’s 750 year old festival is one of the major festivals in Fukuoka and is celebrated from 1 – 15 July. There are three major rules to the Yamakasa, that is, no women can take part or touch the floats, no sex and no cucumbers throughout the duration of the festival. The people of Fukuoka refrain from eating cucumber as it is the symbol of the festival.
The pattern of the round cucumber slices resembles the emblem of the festival deity called Gion-sama who is enshrined in Kushida-jinja Shrine from where the race begins.
Gorgeous decorated floats called Kazariyame covered by beautiful dolls made by skilled Hakata doll makers are set up in various places throughout the city. The city is full of excitement which builds up steadily to the climax of the festival the Oiyama race.
It is a truly breathtaking event to watch as several hundred men wearing traditional costumes which comprise of a “mizuhappi”(short coat) and a “shimekomi” – a loincloth the thickness of a rolled up tea towel that at once preserves modesty and suggests nudity; carry these one ton floats called Kakiyama through the streets of the city.
On the morning of July 15th; at precisely 4. 59 a.m. seven floats, each carried on the shoulders of 26 men, depart from the Kushida Shrine and race through the streets to see who can cover the 5km course the fastest.
It is at least 30 minutes of back-breaking work that starts with a sprint and shouts of “Osshoi! Osshoi!” from the runners. The spectators numbering close to a million people lining the street throw water on the men as they pass and cheer them on. The end of the festival heralds in summer in Fukuoka.
The Hakata Dontaku Festival
This festival is held annually on 3 and 4 May. It starts with a pre-festival party on the night of May 2nd. About 400 different groups of people from festival associations all over Kyushu, totaling some 28,000 people turn up for this massive parade.
Attired in diverse costumes they parade through the city while tapping rice paddles (shamoji) together. The entire city turns out for this festival as it is said that the word Dontaku comes from the Dutch word Zondag which means holiday and so everybody is out to celebrate this holiday. At the closing of the festival visitors are welcomed to dance together at the Dontaku Hiroba Square.
Fukuoka as a Cultural City
The people of Fukuoka play a crucial part in the success of these festivals and the various cultural programs that take place throughout the year. There is much enthusiasm and comradeship among the young and the old in giving of their time and effort towards these endeavors.
Business enterprises also do their part in the form of sponsorships and donations` and also in taking part in the various festivals and cultural events; it is a great way to make business contacts at all levels.
Most of the festivals are religion-based and thus celebrated by the whole community. Some of the festivals like the Hakata Gion Yamakasa and the Hakata Dontaku Port Festival are internationally known. Tourist flock to Fukuoka during these festival celebrations and festivals are a big money spinner in Fukuoka. The Fukuoka government through its various programs in arts and culture has elevated the city’s cultural standing.