Saga International Balloon Fiesta
The Saga International Balloon Fiesta (SIBF) is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Japan. The festival officially began in 1980 and has grown from a gathering of 5 hot air balloons to a world-class competition. It has gained a reputation as the largest balloon festival not only in Japan, but also in Asia.
The festival is held at the Kase River bank at the boarder of Ogi and Saga City. It takes place between October 29 and November 3.
In 1989, Saga City hosted the first ever International Hot-air Balloon Championships. Hundreds of balloonists from different countries participated at the event. The International Championships attracted thousands of spectators from other cities and prefectures all over Japan. After this big event, Saga International Balloon Festival became more popular. Nowadays,the festival attracts hundreds of thousands of local and foreign tourists. In 2014 alone, the festival brought more than 800,000 local and international visitors in Saga City.
The festival usually begins with a ceremony held on the main street (Symbol Road)to celebrate the yearly Light Fantasy and officially open the balloon festival.The lights that spread on both sides of the street are simultaneously switched on. Soon after the lights illumination ceremony,the parade follows. Local and foreign pilots join the parade and showcase their amazing balloon equipment by turning their burners on and off while moving on the streets. Thousands of people from Saga and adjacent cities gather on the street to witness the opening ceremony every year.
There are lots of exciting events throughout the festival. From the first day till end of the festival hundreds of balloons driven by licensed pilots fly in the air early in the morning or late afternoon to compete each other on different competitions. Some balloons with special shapes appear in the sky to entertain the audience.
Food stalls and local markets
There are food stands and market at the venue that give convenience to visitors. Locally made products specially the famous and delicious Nori (Dried Seaweeds from Ariyake bay) are very popular for tourists.
Music is one of the attractions during the festival. Local musicians and some famous artists perform on the stage and entertain visitors from morning till evening.There are big tents that can accommodate hundreds of people at the riverbank for concerts and other indoor activities.
Special-shaped balloons for kids
The festival has also special events for kids and handicapped. On kids' day, children can touch and feel the huge balloon, get inside in it and play in the tethered balloon. This event is very educational for children.
Festival's Grand Finale
At the festival's culmination night, pilots gather themselves and bring all their balloons at the riverbank for the La Montgolfier Nocturne (The Night of Hot Air Balloons). In this event pilots light up their burners in a choreographed way. So,while burners illuminate inside, balloons with different shapes and colors look wonderful. Thousands of people from different cities flock at the venue to witness this very spectacular event every year.
In 2016, Saga is hosting another world championship event again. This will be the biggest balloon festival in the history of Japan. Hundreds of local and foreign pilots will take part at the event. The city government of Saga and the organizers of this festival are expecting at least 1 million people from neighboring cities and prefectures all over Japan, and tourists from other countries to come and witness this very significant event.
Website (in Japanese) : http://www.sibf.jp/