Japan’s citizen festival – Hakata Dontaku

Japan’s largest festival Hakata Dontaku is held in Fukuoka City on May 3 and 4 each year. The festival boasts of a history spanning over 800 years and is attended by more than 2 million people. It is also known as the biggest citizen festival in Japan.

The term Dontaku is derived from the Dutch word Zondag meaning ‘Sunday’ or ‘a holiday.’

japans hakata dontaku festival

Image Courtesy: abluesheep used under the Creative Commons Licence

The festival started in 1179 as a performance on New Year known as Matsubayashi. It evolved into a parade in the Edo Period (1603-1867), headed by people dressed up as auspicious Gods when visits were paid to the Lord of Fukuoka Castle.

So what is so special about this festival?

Hakata Dontuku has about 30,000 people performing in the event, with over 500 local and international groups, it is truly a citizens’ festival. Schools, small and big companies, marching bands are all part of this festival showcasing their unique talent and costume.

The stages are erected throughout the downtown for traditional performances and a parade of floats is held.

The highlight of the parade is a Shamoji, a wooden utensil used for serving rice, which evokes the image of women, busy preparing a meal, dashing out to join the parade.

Another highlight includes the ‘Niwaka Mask’, which is used in Hakata Niwaka, a style of traditional improvisational comedy performed at festivals. The comedian makes fun of the social conventions in a satirical manner and the mask covers his actual identity protecting him from the society.

japan hakata dontaku festival

Image Courtesy: Jolly_fuk used under the Creative Commons Licence

The parade also boasts of colourful flower cars decorated beautifully and are illuminated during the night with 3,000 electric light bulbs, which makes a splendid sight.

The festival serves as a perfect platform for international visitors to understand Japan’s diverse culture and meet people from all walks of life.

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