Karatsu Kunchi Festival 2018 – a Colorful Floats Parade in Saga!



First, think about one thing. There is a lot of news footage about local festivals, big and small, throughout the year in Japan. Television provides you with live broadcasting of them, which allows you to have a sense of immediacy to some extent as if you were in the site where the festivals take place.  But don’t you feel something different in the TV broadcasting? Just as joining a live concert of your favorite artist is different from watching the video version of the same concert?

This article will provide you with essential information about Karatsu Kunchi Festival in Kyusu in autumn. Hopefully, it will encourage you to visit Karatsu city and take part in the event. Karatsu Kunchi and Saga prefecture may become a discovery for you even if you are an experienced traveler.

 About the Festival

The Karatsu Kunchi Matsuri is annual major Japanese festival in the city of Karatsu, located in Saga Prefecture in the northwest part of Japan’s Kyushu Island. Once you join the celebration, you will probably feel the same kind of excitement as with the concert. You must see its massive floats, gorgeously decorated with colorful and various ornaments. Those would be displayed like color swatches, making their way through the streets in a procession. Even if you can not attend the festival, you can generally see these floats at Hikiyama Float Exhibition Hall at Karatsu Shrine at any time of the year.

Karatsu Kunchi is one of Japan’s major autumn festivals.  “Kunchi” means a “festival” in the local language.  It is held and organized by Karatsu Shrine – a centuries-old communal center of the local town and also a spiritual home for people living there.  This annual festival takes three days starting from November 2nd to 4th. It features 14 massive festival floats hauled through the streets of the town.  While the floats are drawn, people who are pulling them sing processional chants vigorously like “Enya” or “Yoisa” to the accompaniment of the rhythmic sounds of Taiko (drums), Fue (flutes) and Kanem(bells). This livens up the festive mood even more.

This traditional event attracts over 500,000 visitors from the surroundings, other regions and even from abroad every year.  In 1980, in recognition of its cultural significance to the regional community, the Japanese government registered Karatsu Kunchi Festival as Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.  In 2015, it was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.


See the Festival

The festival is noted for its grand parades of 14 elaborately designed festival floats called Hikiyama.  They have been in use for more than 100 years, though they have undergone some repairs.  They are built of wood, lacquer and other materials, covered with hundreds of sheets of quality washi paper put on layers after casting into clay molds.  Hikiyama stands between 5 to 6 meters high, and its weight varies from 2 to 5 tons.  There are serial numbers on each of the Hikiyama floats according to its age.

For example, the oldest Hikiyama is the “Akajishi” – Red Lion, built in the Katana-machi district in 1819.  So people call the float “Ichi-ban Yama” (No 1 Hikiyama float).  Other than the Red Lion, Hikiyama has the form of helmets worn by historically famous samurai lords, sea bream, dragon, and other imaginary creatures.  They are something to feast your eyes.

Local Delicacies

There is an aphorism that has passed for generations in Karatsu and its surrounding area: “Three days are long enough to spend all your 3-month pay on dishes served in the Kunchi Festival”.  This expression represents enormousness, richness, and gorgeousness of the food laid out in platters and served during this 3-day festival.  People become overwhelmed with a large variety of dishes to enjoy.  They include whole simmered “Ara” – deep sea bass, which reaches 60 to even 100 centimeters in length, “Karashi Renkon” mustard-stuffed grilled lotus roots, “Kuromame” simmered black soybeans and many more.  Women prepare most of the dishes.  They work hard at cooking and serving during the festival to welcome friends, relatives, and other visitors.

If you want to enjoy Karatsu Kunchi, I recommend making friends with someone living in that area. Locals are friendly and would enjoy suggesting you a good food stand. Shop owners will be happy to serve you anything you`d like to try on the streets during the festival period.


Details and Access

Dates: 2nd Nov–4th Nov, 2018. The festival takes place on the same dates every year for three days.

Place: Karatsu Shrine

Address: 3-13, Minami-Jonai, Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture

Official website


With its convenient access to mainland Asia, Karatsu had always been a stopover to and from China and Korea.  Fukuoka Airport is the closest one to get in from abroad and visit the city.  If you intend to get to Karatsu from Fukuoka Airport, take the Kuko Line. Part of it runs the Fukuoka City Subway system. It has a through service with JR Chikuhi Line that connects to Karatsu Station.

If you would like to know more about Karatsu Kunchi Festival and receive updated information on the event, please look at the official page of Japan National Tourism Organization!

Closing Remarks

Japan has a reputation as a country of good manners.  So you might think you would be frowned upon unless you conform to their manners and customs all the time during your stay in Japan.  But there is always an exception.  During the Karatsu Kunchi Festival, the whole town is in a jolly mood from the festival.  Local people will welcome you’re coming into their homes and offer you the heartwarming hospitality to you. They can serve food and sake even if you are a stranger to the town.  Why don’t you stop by for a few minutes and enjoy striking up a lively and friendly conversation with them?

And don`t miss a charming International Balloon Festival when you are in Saga in November!

A Manly Gion Yamakasa Festival!

When you are in Kyusyu, you should pay a visit to Fukuoka and see the manliest Japanese festival in July. It is a Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival. This festivity is also worth attending. Besides, it is one of the most popular festivals of this region. And as you could have guessed from the name of the festival, you will be able to see a lot of beautiful and traditional floats and a lot of strong Japanese men in traditional happi and fundoshi. For more information, please check the link below.

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Would You Like to Know How to Enjoy a Japanese Festival Even More?

A lot of people when they get to a Matsuri for the first time feel themselves a bit lost. They confuse about what is happening around. If you are new to Japanese Festivals or want to know an alternative way of how you can enjoy these events, the following article will provide you with a set of helpful tips on how to choose a proper festival and activities you should try there. Please don`t hesitate to take a look at it!


Don`t Stay Hungry at the Festival!

Image courtesy of Tomomarusan

For all foodies who enjoy Japanese Festivals would be nice to get acquainted with the rich choice offered by Yatai (Japanese festival food stalls). The food presented during Matsuri is pretty different from the one you get at the restaurants in Japan. Besides, there is a certain charm in grabbing some snack from a food stall and diving back into the festival crowd. I am sure that you will discover something new about Japanese festival food from the following article!



Have two kids. Teach English at an “eikaiwa” school more than a decade Love cake.

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