The Saga International Balloon Fiesta is an annual festival held at the end of October or beginning of November. It takes place just outside Saga City, Saga Prefecture. The fiesta is arguably one of the top ballooning competitions in the world. The inaugural edition took place in 1978 in Amagi City, Fukuoka Prefecture. It was a small event that featured only five balloons. The event continued to grow over the years. In 1980, the organizers moved it to Saga because there is more room. In 1984, the fiesta became an international competition and was given its current name.
In 2016, the Saga International Balloon Fiesta hosted the World Hot Air Ballooning Championship organized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI; World Air Sports Federation). This is the main ballooning championship in the world that occurs every other year, each championship is hosted by a different country. Alongside with the FAI Championship, the fiesta also hosted the Honda Gran Prix Competition.
Hot air balloon flights, races and competitions are the festival’s main attraction. Up to 100 balloons participate in the festival every year including competition balloons, official balloons, and fantasia balloons. Fantasia balloons are uniquely shaped balloons that participate in a special event called Balloon Fantasia.
The festival’s most spectacular balloon activities include La Montgolfier Nocturne and Key Grab Race. La Montgolfier Nocturne (Night Mooring) is a nighttime event. Balloons take off to the music of a live band, illuminated only by red flames of their burners. As all of the balloons light up, a firework display commences. During the Key Grab Race, pilots attempt to snatch a key attached to a large pole on the field.
It should be noted that all balloon activities are weather dependent, so sometimes flights are canceled due to rain, bad visibility or strong winds. Luckily, the program features other entertaining events such as Kid’s Balloon School, a spectacular trial bike show sponsored by Honda, live performances by musicians, a food market, art exhibitions and more.
Photo by zaimoku_woodpile