Karatsu Kunchi


The promised post about Kunchi! First of all, my sister has been begging us to come see Kunchi in Karatsu for ages. So, luckily for me it coincided with a weekend AND Hosei’s school festival so I had the Thursday and Friday before off. So I flew down to Fukuoka on the 1st of November (originally had booked to fly down on the 2nd, but when I found out I had more time off I changed my flight and even got some money back!) which cost 35,000 yen, though thankfully my sister paid me back. Poor broke student living in Tokyo without a job can’t afford that on her own just yet! (If anyone in the Tokyo area is looking for someone to teach English…)

So after a two hour flight, and a roughly an hour or so on a train, I arrived in Karatsu! My sister took me back to her apartment where I proceeded to collapse on my bed due to having had the brilliant idea of staying up til 4 am with my mates in a post disney land disney film sesh. Later we went out and got pizza and I met some of her fellow JET ALTs and then went to an Izakaya. Of course. The next day, Kunchi started.

A quick explanation of Kunchi: essentially it’s a three day festival where these floats (called ‘hikiyama’) are dragged around the city by teams of men, boys and girls (though girls are only allowed to pull the floats until a certain age. And there are two teams where only men and boys can pull the floats). While they pull the floats, a group of musicians sit on/in it and place some music which their float’s team chants the word ‘Enya’ in the girl and boy teams and ‘yoisa’ in the all bloke ones. While they have brief pauses in pulling the floats around, they proceede to drink from several large bottles of sake and get very drunk. There are fourteen floats in total:

1. Akajishi/The red lion

2. Aojishi/Blue Lion

3. The Turtle and Fisherman Urashima

4. The Helmet of Yoritsune Minamoto

5. Tai/ Sea bream

6. Hou-ou-maru/The Pheonix-Shaped Ship (or the Chicken Boat)

7. Hiryu/Flying Dragon (or Dragon Fish)

8. Kinjishi/ Golden Lion

9. Helmet of samurai lord Shingen Takeda

10. Helmet of samurai lord Kenshin Uesugi

11. Shuten Doji/ or the drunken monster and the helmet of Minamoto Yorimitsu

12. Tamatori Jishi/ lion balancing on a ball

13. Shachi/ tiger headed orca

14. Shichichou maru/ dragon headed treasure boat

The floats each belong to a district of Karatsu, and teams from each district pull them in order of when they were made, the oldest heading the procession (Akajishi was made in 1819, so most of these floats are nearly 200 years old), however the last two were made in the same year, and they alternate which one goes at the end during the festival.

The first time they’re pulled around is the evening of the 2nd of November, and then the following two days they are taken out twice a day. On the Saturday afternoon they’re pulled through sand (I didn’t actually get to see this as there were too many people!) and there’s a special closing ceremony on the last outing (again I didn’st get to see this as I had to get on my plane back to Tokyo). It was pretty spectacular I have to say, and seeing traditional things like this is one of the reasons why I came to Japan. Not to mention, not many Japanese people have seen this either! Haha!

Another part of Kunchi is that the women of major families in the street hold open houses. They cook food and serve it to guests as they come in and out of the houses during the day. I went to three open houses when I was there, and the food was amazing! There’s a special fish that they cook for Kunchi, and even me who doesn’t really like cooked fish that much, really enjoyed it!

This is some really yummy sashimi we had. Oma nom nom!

Oh, I also got to hold one of the lanterns during the night parade! I felt very lucky as it’s such Japanese thing and they’re particular about the way people pull the floats look (according to my sister anyone with dyed hair isn’t allowed to pull it, and anyone with tattoos has to wear skin coloured sleeves). But yeah, I was just standing there watching having just drunk a very disgusting kiwi alcoholic drink, and I suddenly pulled into the crowd and given a lantern to hold.  Then people started taking a lot of pictures. I had to give it back once the float moved on, but still I was very lucky!

But if any chance you’re in Kyushu over the 2nd-4th November, I reccommend you go to Karatsu and see this!


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