Fukuoka Golden Week 2011: Hakata Dontaku Festival

During the first week of May, Japan celebrates “Golden Week”. It is the only time of the year when several holidays are so close together that they can get off work for a week. It is therefore the busiest tourist season for the Japanese, as everybody goes crazy for train, plane, bus and hotel bookings.

I am lucky to be living in Fukuoka, where the festivities attract the largest number of visitors each year. Imagine, 2 million people are here during Golden Week! This is because of the Hakata Dontaku Port Festival held every May 3 and 4. They say the word dontaku was derived from the Dutch zondag, meaning ‘Sunday’ or ‘holiday’. I almost couldn’t believe that the Dontaku is an 800-year old tradition!

This year was my first time to watch the parade. I was really curious to see this big event. And boy, was it grand! Different groups participated in the festival and they wasted no effort in creating the costumes, choreography and production.

This year’s theme was “Do for Japan”, in light of the recent earthquake and tsunami that happened in the Tohoku region.

I noticed several items that are common to the participants. The traditional shamoji was often used, which is a kind of spoon for serving rice. It is said to represent the Japanese woman,  preparing a meal, rushing out of the house to join the parade.Most of the people were also wearing the Niwaka masks (also found as rice crackers all over Fukuoka), representing the traditional satire comedian of Hakata.Also, I noticed that the ladies in costume have flowered hats, which they call hanakasa. They all look so kawaii (pretty) in their costumes!

Some were dressed as gods of good fortune, riding on horseback. This was a tradition carried on from the Edo period, when the festival was used to honor the feudal lords. Behind them usually follows chanting children.

Public officials also joined the parade. The Fukuoka mayor was a very jolly man. They said he used to be a broadcaster before running for office. Hmmm, not so different with politicians in the Philippines, eh? But I was really more impressed with the 101-year old grandpa walking the whole parade! Sugoi desu yo! (very cool!)

There are also flower cars during the parade (hana jidosha) that add color to the festivities.

Different companies like the Japan Railway Kyushu, the local banks, gas companies and broadcasting companies also came up with their own gimmicks to attract people’s attention.

Public service offices like the police and fire department were also present.

Several countries also participated in the parade to promote tourism, such as Thailand and Malaysia. Thailand even flew in Ms. Thailand 2011 for the parade! That’s what i call bongga (grand)!

I enjoyed the  performances during the parade. There were baton twirlers, marching bands, cheerleaders… You name it, they have it! It reminded me of street dancing festivals all over the Philippines.

A lot of interesting faces could be observed during the parade. The event showed the richness of culture thriving in Japan.

We were perfectly happy with watching all the groups pass by, but we were pulled in to join the foreign student group! We were not only spectators then, we became part of the parade! 🙂 We chanted, yelled, greeted people and marched until the end of the parade grounds. We ended up in Tenjin Central Park, where there were a lot of food stalls, waiting to fill our stomachs. They serve a variety of food, ranging from doraemon-shaped cakes to ice cream to barbeque meat. It was good to just walk around and become full from all the food stalls. Several performances were also going on at the park. I especially liked the kids who were dancing. So cute!We lounged around the park until it went dark, and then we walked to the yattai (food stalls) to cap the day, Fukuoka style. Kampai!

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