Nagasaki Dragon Boat Championship and Port Festival

A mixture of 33 rowers, drummers, and a steersman all sit in a long boat. Hundreds of paddles from multiple boats are sitting in the water waiting for the call.  These boats are dead quiet, with laser like focus just waiting for the sound they have been trained to react to. Like a water drag-race, the signal sounds and the boats lurch out of the water. Synchronized screams, drumbeats and cheers fill the air as the race begins. The Nagasaki Dragon Boat Championship is in full swing.
Photo Courtesy of visit-nagasaki.jp

Origin

Dragon boat racing is actually Chinese in origin. The first race to happen in Nagasaki is to have supposedly occurred in 1665. As legend has it, a great storm destroyed much of the harbor and drowned many of its sailors. The large Nagasakian Chinese population took the remaining barges and raced them to appease the apparently angry sea god. This also acted as a showing of Chinese culture to the native Japanese population.  The cultures mixed, and Dragon boat races became popular within the Nagasaki area. 

Soon this became an annual occurrence. The boat sizes slowly grew larger and larger, with their peak measuring in at somewhere around 40-50m. before dwindling back down to today's 14m boats. If our boats fit 33 men, just imagine how many a 50m boat would hold. Over time this festival grew and morphed until it became the festival we now celebrate.

Today's Celebration

Now every year in late July, Nagasaki hosts it’s iconic Port Festival and Dragon Boat championship. The race happens over two days, with teams from all across the world trying to become the best. During the day, the races happen in a tournament style. As the day moves to dusk however, the event turns from the championship races, to it’s festival side. Music, dance, and an array of food vendors descend on the port region. To top it all off, a fireworks display illuminates both nights. Over 4000 fireworks are used for this.
Photo Courtesy of Kansaiscene.com

Access

This festival takes part in the heart of the Nagasaki in late July. Due to this, it’s pretty simple to get to. All you have to do is make it to the city, and you can’t miss it. 

There are a few ways to get to the city.

By Air:  Nagasaki has an international airport to the north. You can fly into this airport, and then take one of the conveniently located buses out front to drop you off in Downtown Nagasaki. Peach airlines flies here for very cheap from Osaka once a day. You can also fly in to Fukuoka and take one of the bottom two options.

By Train: Nagasaki is actually the last stop on the train line for basically the entirety of Japan. Get on the JR line in either Fukuoka or Sasebo heading south and just ride it till the end. This will take you directly to Nagasaki Eki, which is right in the middle of town.

By Bus: The slightly cheaper and quicker option is to take the highway bus into town. The best way to do this is from Fukuoka. You can get on the bus from the Hakata station. This is the big super-mall/transportation hub in the center of the Fukuoka. A subway line runs from the airport to get here. Find the bus terminal located in the lower levels of the station to catch the bus towards Nagasaki.

Whichever way you chose to get there, this event will be sure to be a good time! 

Kurt Anderson