On a crisp autumn morning, colorful hot-air balloons took off from a riverbed in the southwestern Japanese city of Saga for the opening of one of Asia's largest festivals for the aircraft on Nov. 1.

The five-day Saga International Balloon Fiesta will feature 111 balloons from 18 countries and regions, with competitors taking part in a variety of challenges including precision maneuvers.

Crowds gathered from early morning to watch the brightly colored balloons take off along Saga's Kase River, cheering as the picturesque blue sky turned into a vibrant canvas.

Apart from the competition, another popular highlight is the night mooring events on Nov. 4 and Nov. 5, when balloons illuminated by their burners' flames create a spectacular view in the darkness.

"This is absolutely beautiful in this perfect weather," said Tatsuya Sato, who came from Nagasaki Prefecture's Sasebo with his family to watch the balloons. "My 2-year-old daughter got very excited when she saw the balloons floating in the sky. We definitely hope to come again next year."