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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Gion Festival Kyoto

祇園祭

Listen to the sound of Gion Matsuri

Kyoto's Gion Matsuri takes place throughout the month of July with something happening nearly every day.

Gion Matsuri began over a thousand years ago to placate Susano-o no Mikoto, the god of wind and water in an effort to halt a devasting plague that was sweeping the country. The gorgeous floats were traditionally maintained by merchant guilds (now neighborhood associations) who vied with each other to produce the most ostentatious show of kazari (decoration).

The main event and climax of the festival is the yamaboko junko, a procession of 32 giant, decorated floats (23 yama and 9 hoko) through the streets on July 17th. On the preceding evenings of July 14-16th, the floats are illuminated by lanterns and nearby houses display their family heirlooms. This part of the festival is known as Gion Bayashi with the evening of the July 16th (Yoiyama) the most significant, when thousands of people dressed in summer yukata take to the pedestrianized streets of downtown Kyoto to view the floats amid the constant festival music of flutes, drums and bells.

Gion Matsuri Kyoto


On July 10th, there is a welcoming ceremony for the floats (omukae chochin) when the festival lanterns are carried in a procession and later that evening in a festival known as mikoshi arai - the sacred palaquins are washed on Shijo Bridge.

After the main procession on July 17th which lasts from around 9am-1pm, three palaquins are taken from Gion's Yasaka Shrine at 6.30pm and brought to Shijo Otabisho just off Teramachi Street, south of Shijo Street. This is known as the shinko-sai.

Gion Matsuri Kyoto

On July 24th, hanagasa-junko is a procession of dancers including maiko (geisha) and children in traditional costume. This begins at 10pm and proceeds around the downtown area. At 5pm the three palaquins are returned to Yasaka Shrine from Teramachi in a tradition called kanko-sai.

Mikoshi-arai is the formal conclusion of the festival on July 28th and sees the floats cleaned again on Shijo Bridge before returning to Yasaka Shrine until next year.

On July 31th, a nagoshi-no-harai purification rite is held at Yasaka Shrine with visitors passing through an arch of sacred grasses. This ritual is usually performed at the end of June at other shrines around the country.

Images: Jake Davies

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