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Kyoto Gion Festival / Kyoto & Kansai

It is said that the summer of Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, begins with the Gion Matsuri. It's an annual festival of Yasaka Shrine which begins July 1 and continues through July 31 every year. During this period, a series of Shinto rituals and various events take place at Yasaka Shrine and others locations in Kyoto-city. Yasaka Shrine was originally named Gion-sha and is the head shrine of the thousands of Gion-sha shrines in Japan. The Gion Matsuri is one of the three largest festivals in Kyoto, alongside the Aoi Matsuri and the Jidai Matsuri.
The Gion Matsuri was started in 869 A.D when a bad plague spread in Kyoto. In the first festival, young men carried numbers of wooden floats as a divine intervention to stop the plague. The plague soon ended, and this event became a popular festival. The current form of the decorated floats appeared in the festival during the Edo period.
http://www.city.kyoto.jp/koho/eng/festivals/img/gion.jpg

The highlights of the Gion Matsuri are Yoi-yama (the night before Yamahoko-junko) on the 16th and Yamahoko-junko on the 17th. Thirty two gorgeous yama-hoko floats are displayed from July 14-16, and main streets become pedestrian zones in the evening. During Yoi-yama, some houses on the Muromachi-dori and Shinmachi-dori streets open their doors to show treasured old folding screens. Festival vendors line the streets and traditional Japanese festival music (matsuri-bayashi) is played all over.

Yamahoko-junko is the procession of colorful floats through downtown Kyoto. The floats are pulled through the streets by teams of men dressed in traditional costumes. Each of the large floats carries musicians. The floats are decorated with tapestries or fabrics from Nishijin, Kyoto. Many of them were imported from India, Belgium, Persia, Turkey and other countries in the 15th century. The procession usually starts around 9 a.m. from the Shijo-Karasuma.
http://www.japantravelinfo.com/userfiles/image/Gion%20matsuri.jpg

There are two kinds of floats: yama and hoko. Yama are smaller floats (weight: 1.2 ton - 1.6 ton, height: about 6m) and carried by people on their shoulders. Hoko are giant floats (weight: 4.8 ton - 12 ton, height: about 25m) on large wooden wheels and pulled by people. There are 32 floats in the procession: 25 yama floats and 7 hoko floats. The most interesting thing to see during Yamahoko-junko is the turns of big floats called tsujimawashi take place in intersections. Men pulling the floats chant loudly, "yoi, yoi, yoi to sei" accompanied with traditional Japanese music played by people who are on the floats.

Kyoto is taken back in time during the Gion Matsuri festival. At this time, you see many street vendors and people wear traditional Japanese outfits. Kyoto is located about 200 miles west of Tokyo. It takes about 3 hours by Shinkansen train from Tokyo to Kyoto. Visit Kyoto to see the Gion Matsuri festival which is one of the biggest festivals in Japan.

By T.S. on July 13, 2010
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