Asia's largest hot-air balloon convention "Saga International Balloon Fiesta" (hereinafter referred to as, "Balloon Fiesta") is held at Kase Riverside from late October to the beginning of November. 111 hot-air balloons from 18 countries and regions participated at Balloon Fiesta 2017 and 886,000 visitors attended the event. In addition to high level hot-air balloon competitions, visitors will come across plenty of excitement such as the fantastic spectacle of "Simultaneous takeoff" where hot-air balloons rise together from the riverside and this can be experienced only at the Balloon Fiesta. There is a food corner at the venue for visitors to enjoy the delicious food of Saga.
Hot-air balloons float using the principle "Warm air is lighter than cold air". A large hot-air balloon is raised by filling air that is heated using a burner into the envelope and lowered by allowing the hot air to escape from inside the hot-air balloon. The air currents move the hot-air balloons in the horizontal direction. Although "Air currents" are important for hot-air balloons, the reason for holding the Balloon Fiesta here is the sky above the Saga plain. There are layers of air currents blowing in different directions with many overlapping layers of air currents moving at different speeds which change over time in the sky above the Saga plain and considered to be one of the best competition areas in Japan. At the Balloon Fiesta held in Saga, competitions such as "Pacific Cup" and " Japan National Championship" are held. The competitions are held twice a day in the morning and afternoon.
The hot-air balloon competition is called the "Task", where competitors must fly the hot-air balloon towards a "Target" (destination) and drop the "Marker" (sandbag) aiming for the target. Closer the distance between the marker and target center, higher the score.
Since hot-air balloons use natural air currents, the task is determined based on the weather conditions of the day and time of the event during the task briefing (meeting of competitors) which is held just before the competition. The results are announced at the venue, or you can also visit the official website, and official SNS sites Facebook, Twitter to check the results.
You can enjoy seeing balloons that are official or in the shape of cute animals and popular cartoon characters floating as well while “Balloon Fantasia”is open. These balloons do not fly, and if weather and wind conditions are favorable, visitors may be able to enter the launch site, which is normally closed to the public, and have an opportunity to see these balloons up close.
Though the hot-air balloons cannot be boarded during the Fiesta, the "Kid's Day" event provides children a fun opportunity to learn about hot-air balloons through hands-on activities, touching the hot-air balloons, and even going inside a hot-air balloon envelope, "Balloon Classroom" is a trial class where visitors can experience inflation to finishing up with the pilots and crew, and "Key grab race", a race that requires participants to fly from the outside of the event place toward the huge model key hung on a pole placed in the center of the launch site and try to grab it. "Night mooring" that takes place in the evening is recommended. Hot-air balloons spread along the side of Kase river are lit up in the dark to the music of a live band, and visitors experience a dramatically different side of these hot-air balloons, transformed from their daytime appearance. Fireworks soar over Kase Riverside as all the hot-air balloons light up at once to the call of "burners on!" marking the end of the event.
The "Umakamon Market" opens at the venue with fresh agricultural produce and fishery products of Saga. You can enjoy delicious dishes from Saga and attend concerts of musicians.
Balloon Fiesta takes place in the sky above the Saga plains, which is said to be one of the best competition areas in Japan. You can enjoy the photogenic scenes spread in the vast autumn sky while enjoying the food of Saga.
Visitors can experience hot-air balloons even when the Balloon Fiesta is not taking place at the "SAGA Balloon Museum" (+81-952-40-7114) in Matsubara, Saga City. The museum opened in October 2016 as the first museum in Japan where you can experience the Balloon Fiesta at any time, if you miss a chance to visit the Balloon Fiesta. Here, you can learn about the history and mechanism of hot-air balloons, and enjoy videos recorded by the contestants during Hot Air Balloon World Championships in the past on a wide 280-in screen that makes you feel closer to the hot-air balloons and watch scenes that are seen only by the contestants.
Visitors can feel the experience of pilots through maneuvering simulation with a "Hot-air Balloon Flight Simulator" that uses a real basket and burner and take part in a quiz rally trying to answer questions on hot-air balloons that covers five points of the museum.
The museum is closed on Mondays (on the next day if Monday is a national or public holiday) and Year-end and New Year holidays, the museum is open from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM (Last admission: 4:30 PM), please inquire before visiting as the holidays and opening hours may sometimes change.
You can "Prepare" at the museum before watching the hot-air balloon competition. Or, visit the museum after the Balloon Fiesta to "Learn more about hot-air balloons". In either case, a visit to the museum is recommended as you can touch and feel the charm of hot-air balloons at any time.