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July 15: The big run!! Hakata Yamakasa Oiyama & other highlights

Yamakasa-NaviWhat is this Yamakasa?July 15: The big run!! Hakata Yamakasa Oiyama & other highlights

July 15: The big run!! Hakata Yamakasa Oiyama & other highlights

Waking at 2 am, I begin my bike ride to work…

It was a full moon lit night, the streets eerily empty and yet strangely not when I left home in Yakuin to bike through Tenjin, then to my office in Gokusho. There were taiko drums and army-like shouts in the air, coming from the vague direction of Reisen Park and the Kushida Shrine…

Undoing the Kazariyama

Walking towards our office I saw this sad scene… at 2.30 am ish they were already more than halfway over with unpacking and putting away the Kazariyama.

Movers organising the pieces

What surprised me was these people weren’t Yamakasa participants… they weren’t in Happi or anything, they were just… movers. It was kind of sad. My boss tells me the Kazariyama these days are left on display after the festival at places like Fukuoka airport for the sake of tourists. That’s one place it could have been headed for.

HQ!! Boarded off…

I almost thought they were about to be taken down too. I think the dudes get one last meal here after the Yamakasa is over. Then it gets packed up and put away.

One last beer before the run

There were quite a lot of guys in their shimekomi (or funboshi… sumo undies) just walking around or chilling in stores and that. To be fair it’s 2 hours before the running starts, but still… you wonder if they were skipping out on some kind of hard work.

After having my combini breakfast & energy drink and parking my bike out of the way of Yamakasa runners, I jogged down to Kushida shrine to find a place. I got there at about 3 am, expecting it to be more packed than it was…. don’t get me wrong, it’s a huge turn-out for 3 o’clock in the morning. The spots around the start line and beyond it (where you can see into the shrine a little bit) were 3 or 4 people thick already, though you could walk past. Most of the cordoned off portion had a row of people that were sitting, and a row standing behind that. You could still find a decent place. Anyway… my camera really struggled with the dark, on account of me not accounting for the blurriness and changing my settings properly. But for narration’s sake, it’s enough.

Down at Reisen & Kushida Shrine before the Oiyama Starts…

Reisen Park! Look familiar?

Except it’s night-time now, and much more blurry…

Compare~ Oiyama Narashi

Kind of similar, right? This was a bit closer to the starting time than the “real event” photo.

Waiting with the Kakiyama.

That guy looks pretty serious about it all…

Meanwhile, snack stalls!

I didn’t think it was “that kind of matsuri”, but there were still quite a few people in Yukata and quite a few matsuri type food stalls out and about… at 3 in the morning.

Photos with babies!

Still! I guess it’s ok even on the big day to take cute photos with babies.

Crowds building / Kawabata’s Kazariyama arriving

This was the last one to arrive on the scene. I’m not sure if it stayed parked on a side street or went to the back of the line of Kakiyama’s… as it runs last through the loop.

Close up: more Kakite (Kakiyama Carriers) up close!

I like their seriousness. That is seriously hard work they’re doing. You can’t help but admire them.

Stalls set up inside Kushida Shrine, too…

It would seem a bit sacriligeous to have beer stalls set up inside the grounds of a monastery, say, or inside a church… but Japanese shrines are a bit more practical.
Through all the days of Yamakasa events there were people selling omiyage (local snacks to take home as souvenirs), beer, yakitori, all sorts of stuff.
Even at 3.30 in the morning, they were out in full force inside the shrine grounds.

Taking a nap…

When my manager saw this he said, “should they be sleeping?” This is 1.5 to 2 hours before running starts…. there was a guy lounging on the left that was giving me looks as I took photos so I took one without him.

What strikes me more than the old dude dead asleep 2 hours before the big event is that they’re helping themselves to the shrine buildings… they look pretty cordoned off. That looks like a fence to me. Oh well…


This one is in the side entrance of Kushida.

More lanterns! And some Kakite, bottom right.

I’m not sure that these as sponsor lanterns like the others, because they only seem to say Kushida, along with a few other things. Maybe they’re from sister shrines, or associated temples or something? Anyway, you can see guys running around getting ready below them. And that yellow sign is from a Tempura stall.

First Kakiyama Arriving!

See, I found a use for my uber blurry photos. Speed blurs, ladies & gentlemen!

compiling 2 photos: now we wait.

Luckily for me the Kakiyamas stopped right in front of where we were standing. No, it’s not the goal line… it’s where they wait a couple minutes before they’re allowed to line up at the goal. So this is Nishi, the first Nagare, waiting.

And they wait.

Crowds are built pretty thick by now… 4.30ish, if my memory serves me correctly. This is near the end of Kushida’s grounds. About 5-10 metres to the left of these people the start line is marked on the wall.

And we all wait….

That little booth up in the air is where the Taiko drum is, and the official timers and start callers, and the long wooden pole that gets raised when 4.59 am comes around. By the time Nishi’s Kakiyama had moved down to the start line, it was hard to move where I was standing.

And wait…

Getting their focus on as the minutes are counted down…


Same with Chiyo, who lined up right where we are again, as Nishi was getting ready to start. Each Nagare leaves the starting line at 5 minute intervals, so by the time the last one leaves Kushida the first one will be arriving at the goal point.

Shoulder Bloodstain!

I found one. Do you remember my boss saying this was “uncool”? Now imagine running with the poles of a 1-ton Kakiyama on your shoulder, over the top of burst blood blisters? OUCH. This is such a macho event…

Second Spot: Nishi’s Home Base!

This is more than halfway through the course. Each Nagare has one of these giant wooden huts (called a wooden hut, or yamagoya…) under which the Kakiyama lives. All Yamakasa related events tend to be located around the wooden hut for that Nagare. The right to have the hut on their turf gets passed around year to year like the right to run first in the Oiyama; this time between each sub-town within each Nagare.

Sky slowly getting brighter…

I got here by about 5ish, expecting the runners to be here by 5.10… it was a generous estimate.

In they come! Nishi running up.

When I arrived it was pretty quiet, by 5.25ish when the runners were passing through there was a sizeable crowd, especially once the roads were closed. I had a nice spot up on a ledge though.


Since all the photos are blurry anyway I decided to GIF them. They’re not well aligned but you get a sense of the motion of the Kakiyama.

In through the gate!

It was cool how they had to pass through this gate thing on the course. Not just Nishi, every single Kakiyama had to do this. I would’ve gotten more photos of them passing but I wanted to check out a few other spots first…

Spot 3: Taihaku Doori

I dropped by here after seeing one Kakiyama pass the Nishi hut… as it’s further than 1/2 way through the course, I didn’t want to waste the chance to see Taihaku Doori all closed up and full of people traffic again. Lucky for me, Kakiyama have a long way to run!


It’s always neat to see the city stop for any occasion. That’s part of the attraction for me, I think.

RUN! Video still shots: Ebisu… I think.

I got to Taihaku in time to catch Ebisu running… not bad!

Stopped at the lights…?

Maybe not. Maybe this was just a clear shot (GASP!). But I have a feeling they had stopped for some reason… possibly issues with their Kakiyama.

And here comes DOI after them!

I crossed the road to get a closer look, so it might look as if they’re going in the other direction.

Spots 4 & 5: On the way to the Goal Point

I was pretty happy with myself by this point. I thought I would be able to get to 1 or 2 spots max, that it would be crazy crowded and I wouldn’t be able to see anything. In fact, it DID get pretty crowded at certain points in the course at certain times; places like the goal point (past the line) and Kushida you had to fight for from 2 or 3 in the morning. But other places were cruisy, you could get a good look without stepping on too many toes.

The crowd was also pretty fluid after each Kakiyama had passed, except for Kushida and the Goal Point of course. Parts along Taihaku were full up as well apparently, but not as bad as on the Tenjin run where every imaginable seat/object to stand on seemed to be taken, except for the tall stuff that police told you to get off coz it’s “dangerous”. PSH

Here it comes again~

This corner had a stairwell leading up to a bank that was populated with people, giving us a clear view. Lots of good spots if you look for ’em!

Runners approaching

And approaching…

Ah~ but it’s still all blurry…

And gone!

Just like that. Time to run for the next spot…

Kakiyama coming…

This was along the winding roads that lead up to the goal, on the far side of Showa Dori. I really enjoyed ducking in and out of audiences to follow Kakiyama around, and it seemed like just locals gathered too. This place had the nicest atmosphere of the audiences 🙂

A little closer…!

A little MORE closer…

That’s some heavy shrubbery!

And from behind…

…it’s all blurs. With speed, of course.

Walkers behind

You know how they manage to keep up? A sizeable amount of them just cut corners and go down small streets to beat their Kakiyama to places. It’s so they don’t have to run the full way, and so that they can get the buckets ready. But still… feels like cheating, right?

Getting breakfast ready…

At one of the base camps for one of the sub-towns within one of the Nagare, ladies were busy getting breakfast together for the runners. Plates were all set out too… but I didn’t get a nice photo of them. There was so much food at the Yamakasa after party that I got some to take home!


Arrived at the goal point!

My lovely perch neighbour lent me some of the brick she was standing on so I could get a good view over people’s heads. Aren’t people nice?

Here come the cavalry!

A sea of blue & white amongst black-haired heads and cameras…

Kakiyama approaching!

That’s water being sprayed on the side there.

Kakiyama Passed!

And the audience’s heads turn as one to follow.

Next to the water throwers

No wonder not many people were standing here… these ladies kindly obliged my request for a photo.

Watching from a window

You’d best make some friends in this neighbourhood if you want a REALLY good seat.

On the other side of the goal posts…

It was completely PACKED behind rope… you’d think they’d close the road off properly from cars and let people stand at least on the one side of the pavement not used by the Kakiyama. The police were really strict, and more than a little counter-productive.

Some runners making their exit!

Watching from the goal point viewing tower

Apparently some TV celeb was there. Afterwards I saw the NHK report on TV (that evening, or the next day) and he got down on the ground with the plebes and took a “HELLO from all the ordinary people!” waving smiling video-photo away with him for the end of his reporting footage.

Runners close in…

This would be number 5 still. This much running and I’ve still got 2 Kakiyama to go!

As they leave the goal

Each kakiyama stops outside, probably hears their times (and cheers!) and then, at a more leisurely pace and stopping for traffic, makes its way back to its home base.

From behind the camera stand

PSH. Although it’s too dangerous for us normal people (even at the point where there’s giant anti-car concrete barriers, halfway across the pedestrian crossing!), the giant traffic island in the middle of Showa Dori was home to a host of video cameras. Thus not only were you squeezed for space on the outside end of the goal, you couldn’t watch from across the street either. Nor from under the camera platform. What a stupid setup…

After the Goal~ heading to home base

Though I didn’t get a nice photo or a clear look at them finishing, Higashi came in 6th and it was my specific assignment to follow them home and watch them unpack the Kakiyama. So I ran ahead of them, though it turns out the trip back to home base isn’t nearly as fast as the trip around the course (go figure). The Kakiyama now had to stop at major traffic intersections and just before it got to its home on the side of Taihaku Dori, traffic and buses were already back in action along that stretch of road.

It was kind of scary how fast business was back to normal aftwerwards… but here we go.

And the sun rises!

Higashi heading back as morning comes.

Waiting at the traffic lights.

Empty Taihaku Dori…

It’s cool to see it empty, it’s a pretty major thoroughfare.

Meanwhile, somewhere else…

While I was following Higashi home I saw another nagare at the end of a small road heading into Taihaku. They ran triumphantly up to the end of that road, stopped and turned back. I guess that’s THEIR tradition…

And we cross!

Maybe they couldn’t be bothered waiting for the traffic cops?

On to home turf now!

And here comes the Kakiyama!

Turn the monster around…

As the front end must face Kushida, of course.

And park!

Good job boys!

Speech and bow…

There was a song too, the one everyone takes their headbands off for.

And clap!

This is the “the end” bit, although there’s still some proceedings left…

Triple Higashi!

City bus in the background~!

Unpacking the Kakiyama

It took them a while to figure this out.

Glaring down at his opposition…

This guy’s pretty awesome. It’s kind of sad to see him go.

Finally, got it undone!

Passing it down to the plebes.

And off the pedestal!

Washing the pedestal down…

You thought that was all? Higashi is famous for one last thing that it does before the Kakiyama’s base gets taken apart, and everything is trucked off to mysterious places…

the Kakiyama is a swing!

I bet they were waiting alllll festival just to do that… heheheheh.


So Higashi’s clean up is pretty fastidious… is it required? Heck no! Just look at Nish’s cleanup:

There’s some serious anger issues here… this would have felt pretty good too.


So that’s that! My experience of the Oiyama. I saw a lot more than I thought I would, but on the downside of that I didn’t get to see all 7 teams pass any one place. It wasn’t nearly as impossible to view as anticipated, although the best footage of the day was as always on the TV, seeing as they got to hog stacks of prime viewing real estate.

One point that did bug me was that cops would chase people off the traffic islands on intersections that were closed off for the yamakasa. You couldn’t stand on the road, OR on the islands, which are reinforced against car accidents in any case, should some stray vehicle somehow get past. WHAT GIVES, guys? And I don’t appreciate being told things are dangerous. I have traveller’s insurance, I paid for it specifically so I could do irresponsible things on top of concrete pylons. If I fall off, it’s not like I’m going to sue the roads people or the police department.

or maybe…..!


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