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During the first week of November a very special event takes place in Saga, Fukuoka prefecture. It’s a little different to other Japanese events you may have heard of or been too, as this one takes place in the sky. Read on to learn more about the Saga International Balloon Fiesta!
Up to 100 hot air balloons in a multitude of different colours, designs and sizes, take to the sky in the Saga International Balloon Fiesta. The festival is the largest sky sports event in Asia.
Alongside the Kase river, there are three main areas that make up the Festival grounds; the first one being the launch site. It’s here where the main competition flights set off from and where, on the grassy south side, balloons with more unusual shapes are set up. The other area is the balloon plaza where you can purchase food, drinks, and official goods. Finally, there’s the Rest Station where you’ll find live music and food markets selling local specialty dishes.
Organizers divide the balloons up into three categories: Competition balloons, Official balloons and Fantasia balloons. The competition balloons take part in contests such as the Pacific cup, Honda Grand Prix and the Masters Cup. They usually head up twice a day in the morning and afternoons. The competitions challenge pilots precision and maneuvers.
There are a small number of official balloons that don’t take part in competitions. Instead, they usually fly before the competitions begin.
The Fantasia balloons are very much a crowd favorite, especially among the younger members of the crowd. Keep a look out for cartoon characters, animals and other popular characters, it’s quite the spectacle! They’re not in the competitions so usually get inflated just after the morning event finishes. If the weather is good you’ll be lucky enough to be able to go into the launch area and see them close up!
The Balloon Fiesta began not in Saga, but in Amagi City, Fukuoka back in 1987. It stayed there just two years before moving to it’s home in Saga. It has now become a huge events attracting thousands of spectators from all across Japan and internationally.
In it’s first year there were just 5 balloon and it grew every year with it’s 10th year having 132 balloons. Furthermore, the 9th FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championships were held there. Nowadays, it usually has upwards of 180 balloons and regularly hosts the World Hot Air Balloon Championships.
One of the reasons the site in Saga is so successful and challenging is that there are many different kinds of layers of winds in the upper sky of the Saga plains where the event is held. The direction and speed of winds are different in each layer and they can also change quite rapidly so it’s famous as a tough area to fly in.
The amount of balloons up in the sky depends on the weather, although it’s usually clear and bright. But there’s nothing to fear if the rain does fall, as there is an indoor balloon museum that’s now open in Saga! It’s the city’s first permanent hot-air balloon museum and is also the very first of it’s kind in Japan. You’ll be able to experience past festivals in their theater and even imagine you’ve taken to the skies yourself in their flight simulator!
It’s absolutely free to go to the balloon fiesta. However, it will be 1000 yen to park your car on the northern side of the river. The 1000 yen covers maintenance costs.
There’s a temporary train station, JR Balloon Saga Station, set up at the main fiesta grounds on the Kase Riverside for the duration of the event. There are also shuttle buses running from the temporary parking lots outside of the fiesta grounds.
If you want guides to take you to the festival, click the banner below!
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and would like to visit this festival. If you are in Saga Prefecture you would probably interested in Japanese festival floats. Hikiyama floats are used widely during Japanese festivals. They are different depending on the region. If you are interested in seeing one of the most old, colorful and traditional floats, you should visit Karatsu Kinchi Festival in Saga prefecture in November. This popular festival gathers more than 500000 people yearly and boasts its gorgeously decorated floats along with an energetic atmosphere of the festival. For more information on Karatsu Kunchi Festival click on the link below: