The day after Halloween, my friend and I headed to Kyushu, the southern region of Japan. Our destination was Saga, a prefecture that is not really known for much. However, there was one annual event that Saga was famous for—the International Balloon Fiesta. The festival celebrates hot air balloons by having races with participating countries from all over the world as well as featuring other activities.
The International Balloon Fiesta (aka SIBF) is held every year for a few days around Halloween until early November. I wanted to go ever since I heard about it but Halloween had always prevented me from trying. However, this being my final year in Japan, I had to check it out before I left the country.
We decided to stay in Fukuoka, which was a little over an hour away from Saga. Apparently Saga does not have many hotel opportunities as well as activities but Fukuoka was another matter. Plus my friend knew a local from there which was happy to show us great restaurants around the area. How could I refuse? Talking to his friend was amusing because she was a former Osakan elementary school teacher and hearing how different Fukuoka students were from Osaka (mainly being super polite and not blunt) amazed me. Thanks to her we had a great first evening.
The following day we decided to take it easy and head to the SIBF in the afternoon to check out the races. It was a beautiful day out but a little windy. This would later bite us in the ass. The grounds were similar to a summer festival, complete with food stands, games and even a bazaar of some type.
Finally it was time for the race to start. Unfortunately, the wind wasn’t letting up which led the races to be cancelled, leaving us only one more opportunity to see it before we went back to Osaka. What time was that exactly? The next morning, at around 7:45 AM. Because Saga was an hour and a half away from Fukuoka, that meant we had to get up at around 5:30 and be out the door by 6ish. I wasn’t looking forward to it but at least the first day at the SIBF wasn’t a bust. We caught the balloon light-up show at night, which was a fun watch. As soon as it ended we quickly headed back to Fukuoka to prepare for the long day tomorrow.
It really felt magical when I stepped out of the train and was welcomed by tons of hot air balloons flying in the air, next to the rising sun. The pictures I took have nothing on what it was like in real life. All the hype I had created in my mind and the pains it took to get there so early were completely worth it.
If you like hot air balloons at all, I would highly recommend going to SIBF. Apparently they are going to extend the festival by at least a week in the near future because it’s rather common for races to get cancelled; it looks like the 2016 SIBF will run from 10/28 through 11/6! This makes it a lot easier for those who may have a tight schedule around that time. I really wish I could check it out again but at least I got to see it once.
My trip wasn’t over yet though! Saga had a few more interesting things to check out but that will be for another time.