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One of Fukuoka's "Big Three" Festivals, Hojoya! Festival Report!(1/2)

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A sultry night at Fukuoka’s big autumn festival, “Hojoya”! (part one)

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● People everywhere! Peace-sign guy is me.
This year marks my fourth year as an exchange student in Japan. I spent the first two years in Yamaguchi prefecture and then moved to Fukuoka where I’ve being living since (almost two years). I’ve lived here for a while now and I previously thought that the main attractions in Fukuoka were the Yamakasa and Dontaku festivals, but just recently I discovered there are actually three major festivals in Fukuoka, the third being the Hakozakigu (Hakozaki Shrine) festival, “Hojoya.” I decided to brave the stifling mid September heat and head to the Hakozaki Shrine to check it out.
Firstly, I’ll briefly explain what Hojoya is about. Hojoya is an autumn tradition in Hakata (Fukuoka) and it’s one of the city’s “big three” festival events. It is essentially a religious (Buddhist) festival – a memorial ritual in which living creatures are released into lakes, rivers, mountains, and forests as a reminder to be thankful for the life we have and for the life around us.

Hojoya is held at Hakozakigu from September 12-18 each year and during this time masses of people make the pilgrimage to the shrine to give thanks for the change of season and to pray for a prosperous year of business and for road safety. As you near closer to the shrine (from about 1km out) you will find the path lined with food stalls and booths selling a variety of items.

I went to check out the festival on the first day, September 12th, and as soon as I got off the subway at Hakozaki Jingu-mae Station I found myself in a swarm of people! I don’t know if it was because of all the people or the weather or what, but the heat was intense! (ㅠㅠ)
As I left the station and began making my way up to the shrine, the first thing I noticed were all the stalls that lined the path. People were selling an array of foods like roasted corn, fried squid, ice-cream, shaved ice, yakitori chicken, fairy floss, etc., but the thing that caught my eye was the stall selling spring ginger and the “Hakata Chanpon” (glass pipe) stall.
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● The spring ginger stall. Slightly different from the ones you see at the supermarket - these ones come with stalks and all! At 1000 Yen (about $12) a bunch though, they're not exactly cheap!
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● The beautiful "Hakata Chanpon" glass pipes. I bought the stained glass one in the centre.
I was curious to find out why on earth they were selling fresh spring ginger (stalks and all!) at a festival like this so I did a bit of researching when I got home. Apparently, before the war, there used to be a lot of ginger plantations around Hakozaki Shrine and the wives of traders and merchants in Hakata were particular fond of the ginger from there, so they would visit Hakozakigu quite often to purchase it. And it seems it has become a custom amongst the people of Hakata that still continues today.

“Hakata Chanpon” is a pipe-shaped, folk craft toy made of glass that gets its name from the sound it makes when blown – “chanpon chanpon” (popping sound). Some people come to Hojoya especially to buy these glass toys which are imprinted with designs hand-made by the shrine maidens and you’re likely to see people lined up to buy them as soon as the stall opens early in the morning.

I didn’t need any fresh ginger at that point in time but I did decide to purchase one of the stained glass Hakata Chanpon to give to my parents as a gift.
There were so many things I wanted to try at the food stalls but I also had high hopes of downing a beer or two after visiting the shrine, so I held off. Thoughts of food aside, I continued on.
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This day also happened to be the day of the “mid autumn harvest moon”: the day in the year the moon is regarded to be most vivid and beautiful. The clear skies and the vibrant full moon coupled with the foreground image of the shrine all had a rather mystical and alluring effect on the atmosphere.
Before I knew it I was standing in front of the shrine and while I would usually just say a prayer for myself or my family in such situations, this time I also wanted to pray for a quick recovery for the victims of the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster.

After I said my prayer and paid my respects I decided to do the traditional thing when visiting shrines and temples in Japan and do “omikuji” (omikuji is a written divination about a person's near future. Omikuji is drawn by making a small offering and then randomly selecting a numbered stick from a box – you then trade in your numbered stick with the corresponding piece of paper that reveals your fortune). I was a little stunned by the price of this particular omikuji though. I turned to my fellow work mate who joined me on this outing, “300 Yen ($3~$4) is a bit expensive, don’t you think? At other shrines this usually only costs 100!” to which she replied, “It is a bit expensive but at this one it’s not just your fortune – there’s additional prizes you can win also.” And upon closer inspection I found that there were in fact additional prizes up for grabs like free hotel coupons, plane tickets, Disneyland passes, and loads more. I tried my hardest to conjure up all the luck I could as I drew my fortune stick…alas, no additional prize(ㅠ.ㅠ) I did however manage to draw the “daikichi” fortune – the most “blessed” of the fortunes you can draw. (^^v)
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● Praying for family and the people in Tohoku.
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● My "omikuji" foretold that great luck is coming my way in the near future!
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