Festivals and People Vol.01: The Karatsu Kunchi Festival, Kyūshū
Offering prayers. Celebrating festivals.
Marking the cycles of the seasons and the milestones in our lives.
Capturing those moments of human passion when spirits soar.
Colossal Hikiyama Floats Parade Around a Castle Town
One of the big three kunchi (autumn) festivals in Japan, the Karatsu Kunchi Festival takes over the entire northern Kyūshū town of Karatsu for a three-day period, from 2-4 November each year.
The three-day festival opens on the evening of 2 November with Yoiyama, an event where the floats, measuring over seven metres in height and each weighing between two and five tons, are festooned with lanterns and paraded through the town, finally assembling at Karatsu Shrine.
The autumn breeze carries the echoing cries of Enya! Enya! or Oisa! Oisa!, chanted in time to the accompanying music of flutes, drums and gongs. The fourteen majestically splendid floats, depicting shishi (mythical lions), sea creatures, dragons, legendary characters and fearsome samurai helmets and masks, look as if they stepped straight from the pages of an old Japanese folk tale.
The highlight of the next day, 3 November, is Otabishō-Shinko. The floats are paraded to Nishi-no-Hama Beach, then, in a powerful show of strength, hauled along the sandy beach towards the otabishō, their temporary resting place.
The toughest part of the procession is in the sandy ground a kilometre from the shrine, where the wheels of the floats get stuck. As the young men hauling the floats work in unison to pull the floats towards their goal, the festival heads towards its climax.
Then, on the final day, 4 November, accompanied by shouts of machi mawari (‘Around the town!’), the floats visit the various neighbourhoods before heading to the finale.
The thrilling sight of several hundred dashing happi-clad young men, pulling these colossal, richly coloured floats is overwhelming. The entire scene looks like something from an ancient illustrated scroll.
Dates: 2-4 November, annually
Location: Karatsu Shrine, Minami Shōnai 3-13, Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture, Japan
Access: Approx. 13 min. walk from Karatsu Station on the JR Karatsu Line.
Photographer, Teiji Morii, was born in Sanda City, Hyōgo Prefecture, in 1941. He began taking photos as a hobby in around 1964 and has won 362 photography prizes. He turned professional in 1990 and devotes his life work the photography of Japan’s festivals. He has published a significant number of photo-books on the subject. He is actively involved with several professional bodies, including the Japan Professional Photographers Society, is the Chairman of the Nikakai Association of Photographers, and Chief Advisor to the Hyōgo Prefecture Association of Photographers.
Judy Evans is a high school teacher of English and Japanese, and a Japanese-English translator. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese and Art History and has studied production horticulture and landscape design. Judy has a keen interest in the internet environment and has administered websites for a number of organisations. She lives on a small farm in rural New Zealand and is a frequent visitor to Japan.