Autumn has begun. It is getting cooler and cooler. Now we are in the rice harvesting season in Saga Prefecture, where combine harvesters are working in rice fields filled with golden brown ears of rice. After the harvest quickly finishes in many rice fields, regardless of size, large flat open areas appear.
After rice harvesting, rice fields along the Kase River, which runs through Kase Town in Saga City, serve as the venue for the Saga International Balloon Fiesta, an annual balloon festival held between late October and early November. Among various events comprising the festival, the “Balloon Competition” particularly attracts many contestants every year not only from within Japan but also from overseas.
Another event at the Fiesta is the “Balloon Fantasia,” where various balloons are displayed and moored, such as those in the shapes of adorable animals and popular cartoon characters. Besides these, many other events are held during the Fiesta too. Furthermore, many stands and stalls are open during the festival selling various items, such as delicious foods and Saga’s specialties and souvenirs. Concerts are also held. More than 100 balloons will gather during the five-day festival in 2018. The Fiesta is expected to attract 750,000 to 950,000 spectators during its period.
The Balloon Competition’s flights will be made twice a day: one in the dark early morning and the other in the afternoon. The Balloon Fantasia will be held between around 9:00 and 10:30, featuring flying balloons in the shapes of cute animals and popular cartoon characters, which will offer spectators a perfect opportunity to shoot nice photos. At night, an event called “La Montgolfier Nocturne” will be held, in which fantastically illuminated balloons will be moored in the darkness of night.
Whether balloons will fly or not depends on the weather; I recommend you collect information in advance. Balloon flights may be cancelled in case of rain or strong wind. Even in such cases, however, the Saga International Balloon Fiesta offers many other attractions for your enjoyment.
Taking one step inside the venue of the Fiesta, we can see many stands and stalls selling various things, including foods and sweets, and people of all ages shopping around happily. At the market, visitors can enjoy shopping and eat delicious foods.
Even if you cannot come to Saga during the Fiesta period, there is no need to be disappointed. A place will be set up where you can see the balloons up close. That is the Saga Balloon Museum, located close to the Saga Central Post Office. At the museum, you can expand your knowledge about balloons as you like. For example, the museum contains a wide range of balloon-related displays, from their history to their components. In addition, it has a flight simulator that lets you experience a balloon flight. Using the simulator, you can feel as if you were flying in a balloon. Photos of past Fiestas are also exhibited in the museum.
Previously, I was thinking that flying balloons were beautiful but separate from everyday life. After moving to Saga Prefecture, however, I feel they are always a part of our lives—not just during the Balloon Fiesta. We can see balloons everywhere in Saga, for example, in the brands of local sweets and on the packages of local souvenirs and products. If you are lucky, you can see real balloons in flight training in the blue sky.
I am sure that if you come to Saga Prefecture, you will better understand how flying balloons are close to all of us.
Author name: Noi
Hometown: Bangkok, Thailand
I live in Wakaki-cho, Takeo City, Saga Prefecture, together with my Japanese husband, raising our child.
In Thailand, I used to do art and publication-related work.
I have a Kyushu Special Zone Guide-interpreter’s license (in Thai).