Hot-air balloon festival kicks off


Colorful hot-air balloons lifted off Friday into the clear sky along the banks of the Kase River in the city of Saga as the annual Saga International Balloon Fiesta started amid a forecast for favorable weather conditions.

In all, 112 balloons from 15 countries, 83 from Japan and five from the U.S., took part in the annual event, the 30th so far, according to spokesman Kaoru Kawasoe. Other countries the balloonists came from include Britain, France, Germany, as well as China and South Korea.

In one contest, 63 balloonists will compete to see how closely they can drop a 70-gram bag from their balloons to designated points on the ground.

About 40,000 were on hand to watch the balloons lift off at around 7:30 a.m. The organizer expects 800,000 visitors by the time the event ends Tuesday, Kawasoe said.

Supporters of the event are Honda Motor Co., Pioneer Corp., All Nippon Airways Co., Coca-Cola West Co. and Toho Co.

Tethered balloons will be lit up Monday and Tuesday evenings. Photos from past events as well as ballooning gear will be exhibited near the venue.