Transition of a city shown in historic photos of Gion Festival
The Asahi Shimbun July 5, 2016
KYOTO--The ancient capital is once again in the grip of the Gion Festival, one of the three biggest events of its kind in Japan, which lasts for the month of July.
This year’s festival kicked off on July 1 with a prayer for the event’s success, the first of many rituals, ceremonies and traditional parades through the city.
“Yamahoko Junko,” the grand procession, is famed for its tall floats with “hoko” halberds displayed on their roofs, and is usually held on July 17 and 24.
In this photo feature, 10 images of Yamahoko Junko at the Gion Festival taken in the Showa Era (1926-1989) have been selected to show what has changed and what has stayed the same in the city of Kyoto.
The photos also show how the festival has evolved through a period in time when society and the environment have gone through drastic transformations.
The festival is said to have originated between the eighth and 10th centuries with the purpose of warding off curses that were believed to have caused frequent natural disasters and plagues in Kyoto. A series of events are held to invite the three gods enshrined at Yasakajinja shrine in Higashiyama Ward on the east side of the Kamogawa river to central Kyoto.
The Gion Festival’s most important ritual is “Mikoshitogyo,” in which the three gods are brought to central Kyoto in “mikoshi” portable shrines over the river. The mikoshi will stay in the city center for a week before being returned to the shrine.
The Yamahoko processions are the highlights of the festival and traditionally held twice, before and after Mikoshitogyo. The tradition was “rationalized” to only one procession before the ritual in 1966, until the second procession was revived in 2014.
The floats are often called “moveable museums” as they are lavishly decorated with drapes, including historical tapestries and rugs that were once prized possessions of nobles and powerful people imported from as far as Europe hundreds of years ago, and donated for the festival.
This year, a new dragon figurehead has been reconstructed for the stem of “Ofunehoko,” a large boat-shaped float. The figurehead was lost in Japan’s civil war in 1864 during the Meiji Restoration.
For more information and the Gion Festival schedule, visit: www.gionmatsuri.or.jp
The Gion Festival (祇園祭 Gion Matsuri) takes place annually in Kyoto and is one of the most famous festivals in Japan. It goes for the entire month of July and is crowned by a parade, the Yamaboko Junkō (山鉾巡行) on July 17 and July 24. It takes its name from Kyoto's Gion district.
Kyoto's downtown area is reserved for pedestrian traffic on the three nights leading up to the massive parade. These nights are known as yoiyama (宵山) on July 16 and July 23, yoiyoiyama (宵々山) on July 15 and July 22, and yoiyoiyoiyama (宵々々山) on July 14 and July 21. The streets are lined with night stalls selling food such as yakitori (barbecued chicken skewers), taiyaki, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, traditional Japanese sweets, and many other culinary delights. Many girls dressed in yukata (summer kimono) walk around the area, carrying with them traditional purses and paper fans.
During the yoiyama evenings leading up to the parade, some private houses in the old kimono merchant district open their entryways to the public, exhibiting valuable family heirlooms, in a custom known as the Byōbu Matsuri, or Folding Screen Festival. This is a precious opportunity to visit and observe traditional Japanese residences of Kyoto.
|The parade held in Kyoto in the 1920s|
This festival originated as part of a purification ritual (goryo-e) to appease the gods thought to cause fire, floods and earthquakes. In 869, the people were suffering from plague and pestilence which was attributed to the rampaging deity Gozu Tennō (牛頭天王). Emperor Seiwa ordered that the people pray to the god of the Yasaka Shrine, Susanoo-no-mikoto. Sixty-six stylized and decorated halberds, one for each province in old Japan, were prepared and erected at Shinsen-en, a garden, along with the portable shrines (mikoshi) from Yasaka Shrine.
This practice was repeated wherever an outbreak occurred. In 970, it was decreed an annual event and has since seldom been broken. Over time the increasingly powerful and influential merchant class made the festival more elaborate and, by the Edo period (1603–1868), used the parade to brandish their wealth.
In 1533, the Ashikaga shogunate halted all religious events, but the people protested, stating that they could do without the rituals, but not the procession. This marks the progression into the festival's current form. Smaller floats that were lost or damaged over the centuries have been restored, and the weavers of the Nishijin area offer new tapestries to replace destroyed ones. When not in use, the floats and regalia are kept in special storehouses throughout the central merchant district of Kyoto in the care of the local people.
This festival also serves as an important setting in Yasunari Kawabata's novel, The Old Capital which he describes, along with the Festival of Ages and the Aoi Festival, as "the 'three great festivals' of the old capital."
|Yoiyama - The Gion Festival - July 14, 2008|