Translated by Niki Mano
【SUMMER】See Kyoto Passion through Gion Festival
When you walk through 河原町商店街(kawaramachi Shoutengai, Kawaramachi shopping street), you may notice festive sounds. This is the sound of 祇園ばやし(gion bayashi, Gion festival music) which you hear from loud speakers. The Gion festival starts on July 1st. And fr
Written by Atsuko Yagura
When you walk through 河原町商店街(kawaramachi Shoutengai, Kawaramachi shopping street), you may notice festive sounds. This is the sound of 祇園ばやし(gion bayashi, Gion festival music) which you hear from loud speakers. The Gion festival starts on July 1st. And from July 10th, people start 山鉾建て(Yamahokotate, floats building) at each area of Kyoyo Nakakyou-ku district and shimokyou-ku district.
Their gorgeous 山鉾(Yamahoko, yamahoko float) is one of the main attractions of Gion festival. There are 33 kinds of Yamahoko floats: 23 of them parade at 前祭(さきまつり, Saki matsuri) on July 17th and other 10 yamahoko floats parade at 後祭(あとまつり) on 24th. At the day of 宵山(yoiyama) which is held at the previous night of yamahoko parades, the lamps of yamahoko floats light up and the gion bayashi music with Japanese festival flutes and handbells is played. This year, Yoiyama of Saki matsuri was held on 14th-16th and that of Ato matsuri was on 21st-23rd.
Kyoto in July is filled with atmosphere of Gion festival: from the districts where people built yamahoko floats and the 八坂神社(Yasaka jinja, yasaka shrine) which is the main shrine of this festival to even stations, shops, and department stores.
Let's look back over the festival and lively Kyoto!
Let's take a look at the building scene of yamahoko floats
When I walked around Shijo area, I saw many yamahoko floats were being built. Yamahoko floats are built by people called 大工方(daikukata, carpenters) and their helpers 手伝い方(tetudaikata). They use a traditional way called 縄絡み(nawagarami). They assemble yamahoko floats with no nails but ropes.
Even the hot weather, they were weaving ropes. 親方(Oyakara, leader) was leading those people.
They carry on their tradition like this.
Yamahoko floats will be dismantled after the parades.
Where will they be stored?
Each yamahoko float has its storage place. For example, at each area's gathering place or storage house.
祇園祭山鉾館(Gion matsuri yamahoko kan, Gion festival yamahoco floats house) is one of the storage houses.
In this house, 10 yamahoko floats are stored. Each yamahoko floats names' are on each door. Parts of yamahoko floats are carried from here to each assemble place by tracks. It takes 3 days to assemble the parts.
This spectacular festival is supported by these hard works at back stage.
I asked many things about yamahoko floats to carpenters and other people related to yamahoko floats. They answered very friendly.
I still remember that they were watching their floats which was assembled day by day proudly.
And when I was about to leave, they said "Come to see when it's finish! Buy our 厄除けちまき*(Yakuyoke chimaki, chimaki for avoidance of bad luck)!"
*Chimaki...Ornament made by rice. People put it at their entrance to avoid bad luck. There are also "chimaki" for eat but you cannot eat this one.
Yamahoko floats decorated with beautiful cloths
長刀鉾(naginata hoko, naginata float) and 函谷鉾(Kanko hoko, kanko float) which was assembled at center of Kyoto city, Shijo douri area, was finish decorating earlier than others and showed us its beautiful body. So high and powerful! It was higher than 7th floor of buildings. It was overwhelming.
These yamahoko floats were covered by cloths imported from China or Europe. Each yamahoko floats was made to be more gorgeous than others. By these decorations, we can see the passion of Kyoto people.
Gion matsuri in the city
It's not only by yamahoko floats that we can see their passion.
There was a huge byoubu screen which shows the gion festival in the past. Also at Small stores, you would see Uchiwa (paper fans) or Japanese hand towel of Gion festival. And there were mini yamahoko floats everywhere. It was totally different that usual Kyoto. The atmosphere was like the whole city is showing its traditional treasures.
Of course, the main shrine of this festival, Yasaka shrine is also decorated. There would be more visitors than usual during the period of Gion festival.
On July 17th, three Mikoshis (portable shrines) leave the yasaka shrine for the resting spot called 御旅所(Otabisyo) and they go back to the yasaka shrine on 24th.
Carrying Mikoshi to the resting spot is called 神輿渡御(Mikoshi togyo). This is one of YOU CAN'T MISS event of this festival.
Carpenters show their skills and make the city exited by building yamahoko floats. I guess I now know why people call Gion festival as festival of townspeople.
During this period, whole city is full of energy and there are many exiting things! If you miss this year's festival, please visit next year!
Kyoto Gion festival
Official website：http://kyoto-design.jp/special/gionmatsuri/yamahoko(Yamahoko floats parade)