Summer in Northern Kyushu Part 1: Hakata Gion Yamakasa

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Konnichiwa minna-san (Hello Everybody)! <3  I just got back last Wednesday from a super fun, 6-day summer vacation in Japan! Yes, that’s right! I went to Japan again but this time, I went to Northern Kyushu, specifically Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Beppu and Usuki. I said in my last post I was not sure if I am going to pursue this trip, but since I’ve been planning this since late last year, I decided to go with it! I was not able to raise my travel fund though, so like most of my vacation, this one was also a ‘Poorita’ trip. Lol. I know that my money is not enough, but because I CANNOT let go of that 2,800 peso roundtrip airfare I got from Cebu Pacific last November, I found myself in my cosmic homeland again. ^_^
Photo taken at the second floor of JR Hakata City - looks like those Architectural miniature models we see in shopping malls, no?
My flight to Fukuoka departed last July 14 at around 3:20 PM Philippine time. I had a very nice sleep on the plane and woke up to a stunning view of the sunset. Good thing, I checked in online earlier that day and I was assigned to a window seat. The plane landed at Fukuoka Airport at 8:00 PM, Japan being an hour ahead of Philippine time. The whole immigration process at the airport was a breeze and I got on Subway Kuko Line to Gofukumachi Station at around 8:35 PM. I did not have a need to exchange currency because I have 4,000 yen, which should be enough until the next day. I find buying currency Mendokusai (Japanese term for troublesome) because Forex shops in PH do not have enough yen most of the time. So, I mostly rely on my debit card and just pay a minimal transaction fee. 
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the crowd waiting for the final race near Gofukumachi Station
I arrived in Hakata Gofukumachi Takataniya Hostel at around 9:00 PM. I was actually hesitant at first to stay with them because they are not located around Hakata Station. Fortunately, I did not have a hard time finding their location. Thanks to Fukuoka’s subway system. Although it is not extensive like the one in Tokyo or Osaka, the system will take you to most parts of Fukuoka. 
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locals were up very early to get a perfect viewing spot
Upon check in, I got my stuff ready for the next day. At 4:59 AM, the final race of Hakata Gion Yamakasa will be held. This festival was the primary reason why I want to go to Fukuoka. FYI, I am a sucker for history and I love learning about the places I am visiting. 
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These men are assigned to control the crowd near Gofukumachi Station
If you are not familiar with Hakata Gion Yamakasa, it is actually tradition in Hakata which can be traced back 750 years ago and was held annually to keep the epidemic away from Fukuoka. It was later evolved into a festival. Thousands of loincloth-clad men from 7 districts race through the streets carrying decorative one-ton floats. It was probably the greatest butt show I have ever seen. Lol! 
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photos below really shows the energy of the participants :)
I was really amazed with the enormous effort made by Fukuokans, especially the participants, for the festival. I learned that numerous meetings were held throughout the year to select the year's theme, construct race floats, solicit donations etc. I would also like to commend their admirable team work because the festival was conducted on a massive scale that everyone has to participate for it to become a success. It was hard to believe that this kind of tradition is still being practiced in a first-world country like Japan.
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it's quite a sight, don't you think? :)
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people of all ages, mainly men, race through the streets of Hakata
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even the kids joined!
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one ton floats are dragged along the street at a very fast pace
To those who are planning to see this festival next year and you can’t be on the exact date of the final race, then you can still catch one of the parades and pre-race events usually held in the late afternoon from July 10-14. 
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these floats do not have any wheels of some sorts
The festival ended at around 5:30 AM, so I went back to the hostel to sleep. I woke up at 10:00 AM, bought a bento box from a nearby bento factory and got some cash from Family Mart's ATM. I was surprised the exchange rate is only 0.46 yen for every peso! The transaction fee was also minimal, I think it was around 200 pesos (I was using a Security Bank debit card). At 11:00 AM, I started my photo walk at Gofukumachi Station. Below are some of the photos I took. Enjoy!
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I stood at this area to listen to the sound of cicadas! I thought this sound in anime was just a pure sound effect. 
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I took some snaps of people on the way to JR Hakata City - practicing urban landscape photography hehe
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I love that anywhere you go in Japan, it's always so clean and orderly.
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.... and people always follow traffic rules.
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Biking in Fukuoka is a must try! There are plenty of bicycle parking lots in the city :)
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Japanese Bonsai garden at a temple along Gion Street
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just because I like the minimalist structure of this building :)
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I love Japan's vintage looking taxis!
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a sight that was very different from Tokyo during rush hour :)
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the Rakuten building in front of JR Hakata City
So, that's how my first morning in Fukuoka went! I feel so lucky to witness Hakata Gion Yamakasa this year. Although I was alone, I definitely had a great time. I will share MORE photos from my Northern Kyushu trip very soon so stay tuned! ^_^

Check out my other Northern Kyushu posts right here:
Summer in Northern Kyushu Part 1: Hakata Gion Yamakasa
Summer in Northern Kyushu Part 2: Dazaifu Temmangu Shrine
Summer in Northern Kyushu Part 3: A Day in Nagasaki
Summer in Northern Kyushu Part 4: Beppu Onsen Town

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