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Japan: Kyushu summer festival is an exercise in whimsy

June 13, 2013|By Rosemary McClure
  • During the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival on Kyushu Island, people race through the streets carrying floats on their shoulders.
During the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival on Kyushu Island, people race… (Japan National Tourism…)

They’re starting to work on parade floats on Japan’s Kyushu Island, where the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival is just around the corner.

The summer event, which is expected to draw about 1 million spectators during its July 1-15 run, isn’t just a parade. It’s an exercise in silliness.

Parade participants race through the streets of the lively harbor town of Hakata, carrying elaborately decorated 1-ton floats on their shoulders. The object is to reach the finish line before teams from other neighborhoods.

Hoisting gargantuan floats onto your shoulders isn’t the only silly thing about the 770-year-old festival: Local residents also give up eating cucumbers during the two-week run of the event.

"This is an exciting time for our town,” said Masato Okudate, general manager of the nearby Canal City Washington Hotel. “Many people, including visitors from overseas, come to Hakata, Fukuoka for the festival, which is something to experience, not just to watch.

"During the festival, many restaurants offer special deals. It's a very busy time for hotels in Hakata, you should make reservations as soon as possible."

Okudate, whose hotel distributes brochures and other information about the event at the front desk, said there are two kinds of floats: kazariyama and kakiyama. Fourteen large kazariyamas are displayed around town, beginning July 1. The smaller floats, kakiyama, are the ones racers carry.

Kyushu is the third-largest island of Japan and the most southwesterly of its four main islands. Besides Hakata, the island is home to Nagasaki, a historic port city, and Sasebo, site of a large U.S. Navy base and several popular resorts.  

Information: Japan National Tourism Organization 

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