【Saga】Three days of enthusiasm! “Karatsu Kunchi” certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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Karatsu City, located in the northwestern part of Saga Prefecture, is a quiet castle town surrounded by the sea and mountains. Karatsu city is fulfilled with enthusiasm once a year for three days of “Karatsu Kunchi”.

Karatsu Kunchi was certified as one of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage “Yama, Hoko, Yatai Events” in 2016, and is a festival visited by many tourists from Japan and abroad. The author, who lives in Karatsu City, Let me, as a resident of Karatsu, introduce the highlights of Karatsu Kunchi, which only local people know.

Karatsu Kunchi : What kind of Fest?

Karatsu Kunchi is a festival held every year from November 2nd to 4th. It started in the Edo period to thank God for the harvest at the annual autumn festival of Karatsu Shrine in the center of Karatsu city.The word “kunchi” is sometimes used to refer to the word “kunichi”. And the sound of “kunichi” turned at some point to “kunchi”. People in Karatsu call it “Okunchi”.

It must be no exaggeration to say that the people of Karatsu spend a year for Karatsu Kunchi. Especially in the town which has “Hikiyama”, we start preperation for Karatsu Kunchi from November, such as new year’s hayashi or hayashi practice starting in the summer. Also, at Karatsu Kunchi, people are serving the more luxurious dishes at home than New Year and Obon.

Whether or not they are adult or child, everyone is really looking forward to this event, and even the ones who live far away are coming back their home town. That is Karatsu Kunchi. At Karatsu Kunchi, 14 Hikiyama will move around the city of Karatsu, having festival music and shouts thereby. You can enjoy entire 3days, because the highlight and Hikiyama’s course are always different.

Highlight 1:Luxurious Hikiyama

Luxury HIkiyama

At Karachi Kunchi, 14 of luxurious HIkiyamas will be moving around within the city. This is exactly one of highlights.

Hikiyama is a lacquered float placed on a dolly with wheels. Normally it takes 3 to 6 years to complete the construction. Hundreds of Japanese papers are layered on top of wooden patterns and clay patterns, painted with various types of lacquer, and finished with gold and silver.

On the day of Karatsu Kunchi, the lacquered Hikiyama shines brightly under the lanterns and the sun. The Hikiyama floats created by each town have various motifs such as lion heads, helmets, and phoenixes. Among the Hikiyama floats, the one that is especially famous and the favorites of many children is the No. 5 Hikiyama float “Sea Breams”. Among the gorgeous Hikiyama floats, the big-eyed sea bream looks cute and catches the attention of the visitors.

Hikiyama float “Sea Breams”

Highlight 2:Festival music and Shouting

The second highlight of Karatsu Kunchi is the enjoyable musical accompaniment and traditional shouts. The musical accompaniment is played with drums, bells, and flutes, and each town has its own tempo and tone. The “Hikiko”who are pulling the Hikiyama shout “Enya, Enya” along with the musical accompaniment.The music and the shouts will have the spectators excited. The atmosphere will be so enthusiastic that, even though it might be the first time for him to see Karatsu Kunchi,  people will get feeling like shouting “Enya, Enya” together with the demonstrators.

Highlight 3:Hikiyama, which runs!

Next highlight is the great view of Hikiyama, being pulled across the city.

The city of Karatsu retains the atmosphere of a castle town, and there are many old&traditional buildings. The Hikiyama floats are set to come through the old streets of Karatsu. It is always fun and exciting experience when we see the Hikiyama, which weighs 2 to 4 tons, running through a narrow road where normally only one car can go.

In addition, there are curves and corners in the course where they need some momentum to make turn. Sometimes you may get even scared, when you see them going through the way, trying not to get hit by signboards, poles in a dynamic momentum.

To enjoy more, Karatsu Kunchi

Here are some recommendations for you for a visit, which may help you understand more Karatsu Kunchi.

Karatsu Tourism Association

Karatsu Tourist Association is a tourist information center located inside JR Karatsu Station. You will find a plenty of information of not only Karatsu Kunchi but also Karatsu tourism in general. During Karatsu Kunchi, “Karatsu Kunchi Hikiyama Cruise Course” is distributed here. You can see “when and where” you can see the Hikiyama floats, so please be sure to get one of them.

JR Karatsu Station

Hikiyama Exhibition Hall

During the out of festival time, Hikiyama is stored in the Exhibition Hall. If you come to Karatsu out of Karatsu Kunchi time, you can still see the real Hikiyama at Hikiyama Exhibition Hall. In the entrance of the Hikiyama Exhibition Hall, there is also a shop where you can buy various Karatsu Kunchi goods. Please stop by when you go sightseeing in Karatsu.

10 min. from JR Katatsu Station, in direction to Karatsu Shrine
Entry:Adult 310JPY、Child 150JPY
Close:29/Dec、1st Tuesday&Wednesday in December


We have introduced the highlights of Karatsu Kunchi. Karatsu Kunchi is a festival that has the charm of fascinating the visitors, such as the gorgeous Hikiyama floats running through the castle town, the musical accompaniment and the shouts. The event happens every year from November 2nd to 4th, so please make a plan to visit Karatsu during this period.