At some Japanese festivals, it is not uncommon for the festivities to be adorned by beautiful floats being paraded along the streets on certain events. In the city of Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, a small museum known as Hikiyama Float Exhibition Hall houses 14 very old large parade floats which have been kept over a hundred years and are used only once a year. These historic floats play a major role in Karatsu Kunchi Festival, an autumn festival held at Karatsu-jinja Shrine.
Hikiyama are festival floats which were built during the Edo period. They come in different forms such as lions, sea breams, dragons, grampuses, samurai helmets, killer whales and so on dating back to the 1800s. These are covered with Japanese paper and have been lacquered and finished with gold plate which gives them their gorgeous finish.
During festivals, they are pulled in a four-wheel cart by some selected people among the neighborhood’s families where they stand at a height of 5 to 6 meters. Each float also weighs 2 to 5 tons which is extremely heavy! The oldest surviving float, Akajishi (the red lion), was made in 1819 and is placed at the head of the procession. You’ll certainly know the leading float due to the paper ornaments placed on top of it.
The Hikiyama Float Exhibition Hall is located near Karatsu-jinja Shrine. It is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with an entrance fee of 300 yen for adults and 150 yen for children. If you come as a large group, you will be given a 20% discount. There are also some shops at the exhibition hall selling original goods and specialties related to festival events.
The exhibition hall is accessible by train, car and bus. It takes a 10-minute walk from Chikusen Karatsu Station on the JR Karatsu Line, 40 minutes drive from the Nagasaki Expressway and a 3-minute walk from the Oteguchi Bus Center.
The history of Hikiyama Floats is valuable to the residents of Karatsu. The relationship of the historic items to people has been deepened with the existence of the exhibition hall. If you get the chance, head to Saga prefecture to admire and speculate at these gorgeous marvels.