The festival, which begins on the evening of November 2 and concludes on 4th, features daily parades of fourteen hikiyama, massive floats in the form of samurai helmets, sea bream, dragons, and other fantastical creatures, all constructed from wood, lacquer, and other materials. It is the major event of the Karatsu calendar, regularly drawing crowds of anywhere between 150,000 to 500,000 people from the surrounding area over the course of the three day holiday.
Each float — which stand between five and six meters, and which weigh anywhere from two to five tons — is drawn through the streets of the city by teams of bearers selected from families living in the fourteen traditional neighborhoods of Karatsu, to the chant of "En-ya! En-ya! En-ya!"(or"Yoi-sa! Yoi-sa! Yoi-sa!") and the music of taiko drummers and flutists perched on the floats' base. The event, which is coordinated by the local Shinto shrine (near which the floats are stored during the rest of the year), has been held for several centuries now; the current incarnations of the floats were constructed between 1819 and 1876. In 1980, the festival was designated an "Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property".
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List of hikiyama
- 1 red lion (赤獅子) Katana-machi (1819)
- 2 blue(green) lion (中町の青獅子) Naka-machi (1824)
- 3 Turtle and fisherman Urashima Taro (カメと浦島太郎) Zaimoku-machi (1841)
- It was not Urashima Taro but a Gemstone on the Turtle when it was first build.
- 4 Kabuto of Samurai Minamoto Yoshitsune (源義経の兜) Gofuku-mach (1844)
- 5 sea bream (鯛) Uoya-machi (1845)
- 6 phoenix-shaped ship (鳳凰丸) Oishi-machi (1846)
- 7 flying dragon (飛龍) Shin-machi (1846)
- 8 golden lion (金獅子)Hom-machi (1847)
- 9 Helmet of Samurai Takeda Shingen (武田信玄の兜) Kiwata-machi (1864)
- 10 Helmet of Samurai Uesugi Kenshin (上杉謙信の兜) Hirano-machi (1869)
- 11 drunken monster ogre and the helmet of Samurai Minamoto Yorimitsu (酒呑童子と源頼光の兜) (1869)
- 12 lion grabbing a ball (珠取獅子) Kyo-machi (1875)
- 13 tiger-headed orca (鯱) Kako-machi (1876)
- 14 dragon-headed ship (七宝丸) Egawa-machi (1876)
- disappear :black lion(黒獅子) Konya-machi
Food and culture
During the Karatsu Kunchi many families, and mostly the women of these families, will spend tireless hours preparing food for the visitors that will come day and night and into the early morning hours. This is a regular practice.
The event takes place the first weekend in November.