Tobata Gion Pyramid Lantern Festival

As I mentioned in my previous post, I went to Fukuoka by myself on day for a festival while Jeremy had duty. It was a trip that was put on by ITT. ITT is a travel agency here on base that arranges trips for military people and their families. I decided to go on this trip because I wanted to explore Japan and experience something new. I was hoping one of my friends could go but the tickets sold out before they could get one. So I went by myself. I was nervous because I had never done anything like this before but I was more excited than nervous.

Fukuoka is about a three hours drive from MCAS Iwakuni. We traveled by bus. It was long but fun because we watched Despicable Me 2. I hadn’t seen it yet so I enjoyed it. After the movie the ITT tourguide explained that the festival we were about to see was started over 200 years ago. The Tobata region had suffered an epidemic in the early 1800’s. The people in the area prayed for the epidemic to be lifted from their lands with this ritual. Since this worked they continued to hold it every year to keep the epidemic from coming back.

We arrived in Fukuoka in the afternoon. The bus dropped us off at a mall about a mile from the festival site. Thankfully it wasn’t hard to find the festival. There were lots of vendors around the area. Since I was hungry I tried to find something to buy to eat. I had no idea what any of the food was. It wasn’t the normal food I had seen at any of the restaurants we had been up to that point. I figure I would get in line at the vendor with the longest line and order whatever the person in front of me order. I mean the food couldn’t be horrible if so many people were ordering it. I ended up with some sort of meat dish. I have no idea what it was. I was tough and chewy and this weird slimy taste that I can’t really describe. I could only eat two piece before I had to stop. It was gross.

My unknown attempt at ordering vendor food.
My unknown attempt at ordering vendor food.

I spent the next hour wondering the streets trying to find a trash can. I am use to trash cans being on street corners. Its not like that in Japan. There were no trash cans any where. I even tried walking down streets where people lived to see if I could find a trash can behind someone’s house. I have never thought I would search that long for something as simple as a trash can. I tried asking people where a trash can was but everyone looked at me confused and would walk off. So I was left to wonder around still searching for a trash can. Finally I found a vendor and tried asking different ways with my translator app. Finally she understood what I was saying. She had a grocery bag and took the food. She explained that she would throw it away for me. After her left her stand I found a vendor selling ice cold pineapple on a stick. I bought two of those and made my way to wear the parade would happen.

The Yamagasa floats being put together before the parade.
The Yamagasa floats being put together before the parade.

I found a spot near a low wall to sit. Since it was getting crowded on the sidewalk I figured I would be out of everyone’s way as they walked past. I had my backpack behind me to keep it safe. I wasn’t use to Japan’s safeness yet. The sidewalk started getting really crowded and I was getting pushed against the wall. I was about to try and move to a different spot when I felt a tap on my shoulder. There was a Japanese woman behind the wall talking to me but I couldn’t understand her. She mentioned to my backpack and then made a motion as if to place something behind the wall. I realized she was asking if I wanted to put my backpack behind the wall. Don’t ask me why because if I was in the states I definitely wouldn’t have done this but for some reason I felt I could trust her. Maybe it was her kids with her sitting on a blanket with their grandparents but I handed her my backpack. She put the backpack behind the wall and then pointed to a spot where the crowd wasn’t so thick and kind of pushed me (not rudely) towards. I went over there and realized it was a great spot to see parade that was just getting ready to start.

The parade actually consists of two parts. The first is held during the daylight. The Yamagasa floats are called noboriyamagasa during the day. They are large floats have ribbons and banners. Drummers sit on them to bang out beat so that all the carriers can march in time. There are usually about 100 carriers and they shout “yoitosa, yoitosa” to keep time with each other. There are about a dozen floats that march around at the same time.

image3 (1)
One of the noboriyamagasa making it way around the festival.

Once it becomes dark the noboriyamagasa stop marching and disassembled. The guys that were marching around with the floats then turn the floats into these massive floats of lanterns. These new floats are called chochin oyamagasa. The floats are 12 tiers high and have 309 laterns on each float. Once the chochin oyamagasa are built, the  guys carrying them earlier begin to carry the new floats through the streets. Again there are drummers and shouts of “yoitosa, yoitosa” to keep everyone marching together. I wasn’t expecting to seeing anything as amazing as it turned out. These floats are HUGE.

Some the guys waiting to carry the chochin oyamagasas.
Some the guys waiting to carry the chochin oyamagasas.

image4 (1)

Once the parade started winding down I made my way back to the wall. The woman gave me back my backpack and I thanked her repeatedly for keeping it safe for me. I started making my way back to the mall to meet the bus. Since I had over an hour to kill before actually being there I tried to figure out where the restaurants were. I walked most of the way back not able to recognize anything that could be a restaurant. Finally I found a HotoMoto. HotoMoto is a chain takeaway place. They seem to have a healthier offering than typically fast food. And they are really cheap. As usual, I couldn’t understand anything on the menu and none of the pictures looked familiar. I ended up just pointing to a random picture. It only cost 500 yen. It came out a few minutes later and smelled amazing. Since I was just a few blocks from the mall, I decided to walk there before eating my dinner. When i finally sat down to eat I was surprised to realize that it was a breaded pork cutlet with cheese and onions over rice. It was quite yummy.

image6

All in all, while I spent most of the time confused about what was going on or where to go, I really enjoyed myself. I was proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and doing this even though it meant going alone. I plan on going back next year and experiencing it again with Jeremy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s