The rain came down in squalls from about 3 in the afternoon of the 16th. An evening of drinking and wandering the streets of downtown Kyoto in a yukata was not looking promising. Nevertheless, we set out for Karasuma Dori, where the stalls would be set up and the crowd not life-threatening.
The subway was filled with people in yukata on their way to the festival. When we got to Karasuma-Oike and came up out of the exit, the rains had stopped and the streets were being closed off to cars by the police.
On several nights before Gion Matsuri (festival), July 17th, Kyoto closes off most of its downtown to traffic. Colorful street stalls are set up where vendors sell squid on a stick, hotdogs, yakitori, warm beer, iced drinks, and lots and lots of games for children.
Thanks to the rain it was cooler than normal, and the humidity was lower than in the previous days. Most women come in yukata, the colorful summer kimono pictured above. Men wear either a less flashy yukata or a jimbei, which consists of cotton shorts and a top that are like pajamas.
The main drags--Karasuma, Kawaramachi, and Shijo--are closed to traffic and packed with people. There are cops on patrol, and most of their work seems to be guiding parents to the "maigo senta" (lost children center) at Shijo-Karasuma.
Farther in, on the side streets off of Karasuma Dori (street), merchants and families open up their machiya townhouses and display their heirlooms: byobu screens, fans, and more. This area is also where the floats, the enormous Yamaboko, that are the feature attraction of Gion Festival, are parked prior to the festival on the 17th. They are wooden floats with paper lanterns atop them.
The crowd at the three "Yoiyamas"--Yoiyama (the night of the 16th), Yoiyoiyama (the night of the 15th), and Yoiyoiyoiyama (the night of the 14th)--tends to be young, but all ages show up in their yukata. Families, older people, tourists--foreign and Japanese--show up to stroll, eat, and stare.
At just past 7, the rains started up again. At that point, families with children left the festival to the young and drunk.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2007