Festivals & Events
The Saga International Balloon Fiesta is the largest sky-sporting event in Asia. Over a six-day period from October 31 to early November, it combines three "tournaments" with a grand finale of fireworks and a light show put on by a cluster of hot-air balloons.
The main launch site generally begins sending balloons up for the competitions at seven in the morning, but the weather is always a factor. There are events throughout the day, right up until five p.m. The balloons are illuminated at night by the flames from their burners, with the music of a live band to add to the spectacle.
The closest station is Saga Station, best reached by train.
Balloon Saga Station is only a five-minute train ride on the JR Nagasaki Main Line from Saga Station. Saga Station will have connecting shuttle buses as well as information on the various venues. Since this is an international event, information is available in English.
The event takes place by the Kase River, a 10-minute walk from Balloon Saga Station.
The Macy's Day Parade has nothing on Saga's balloon fiesta: Adorable animals and famous cartoon characters make their appearance as gigantic balloons at Balloon Fantasia. There's also a Kid's Day event that provides children a fun opportunity to learn about hot-air balloons through hands-on activities and even go inside a balloon envelope.
After the morning competition finishes, you have the chance to float up there yourself. The Hot Air Balloon School is a class for new balloonists where you can do everything from inflation to finishing with pilots and crew. That includes sending burner's hot air to the envelope.
The pilots and crew teach you the system and properties of the balloon. Sometimes the school is held outside the regular service hours between events. In that case, it will be announced at the launch site.
The event has a full schedule posted online of the events in English, including instructions on how to do the hands-on activities on offer.
Since the event is so close to the city of Saga, staying in town is recommended. Saga has a good range of Western-style hotels, ryokan inns, and other lodging options.
The event all happens along the Kasegawa River just outside Saga City. In addition to the amazing sights in the sky, there are rows of food vendors and a massive tent filled with local crafts and other various cultural promotions.