Fukuoka, Kyushu

Half-naked men scramble for a lucky 8-kg ball in a shower of cold water

Men wearing only loincloths compete for an 8-kg treasure ball (takara-no-tama) 30-cm in diameter which is believed to bring good fortune upon the person who can lift it over his head. The men are divided into the Land Team made up of farmers who mainly work on the land and the Sea Team consisting of fishermen who work at sea. Whether the New Year will bring a rich harvest or a large catch will be determined by which team wins the ball and hands it to the Shinto priest. This is one of the three main festivals of Kyushu. With a history of 500 years, its origins are said to lie in the legend of the dragon god (ryujin) offering two balls to Empress Jingu (170-269).

One o’clock in the afternoon. Two purified balls – a “yang” (representing masculinity) ball and a “yin” (representing femininity) ball – are carried to Tamatori Ebisu Shrine. The “yin” ball is dedicated to this shrine. At first, children carry the “yang” ball in the direction of Hakozaki Shrine. They then hand it to some men waiting halfway. These men start scrambling for the ball, and amid cries of “Oisa! Oisa!” the atmosphere becomes one of feverish excitement. This excitement reaches its peak by the time the men pass under the torii gate. All the while, they are splashed relentlessly with cold water despite the winter cold, as are the spectators who get soaked from head to toe. Because it is believed that just touching the ball will bring good luck, the spectators also struggle to reach the ball, creating greater panic. The Shinto priest at the shrine is waiting at the romon tower gate. If the Land Team hands him the ball it means a year of rich harvest. But if the Sea Team is the winner, it will be a year with a bumper catch.


Hakozaki Shrine
January 3rd
Higashi-ku,Fukuoka City

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