Lavishly decorated “yamahoko” floats are pulled through central Kyoto as performers play "Gion-bayashi" festival music on July 17. (Video by Takahiro Kawamura)
Gion Festival’s Yamahoko Junko parade dazzles Kyoto
The Asahi Shimbun by Jiro Omura and Takahiro Kawamura July 18, 2017
KYOTO--Crowds packed the city center streets here for the spectacular sights and sounds of the Yamahoko Junko grand procession at the annual Gion Festival on July 17.
The parade of traditional “yamahoko” floats, some of which are mounted with ceremonial halberds, marked the penultimate headline event at the month-long festival, which 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.
Dubbed a “moving museum,” a total of 23 magnificent floats featuring elaborate decorations of tapestries and wooden and metal ornaments were paraded through Kyoto’s main streets as “Gion-bayashi” festival music was played close by.
With the Naginata Hoko float at the front, the grand procession of “yamahoko” floats are paraded through Oike-dori street in Kyoto’s Nakagyo Ward on July 17. (Kenta Sujino)
The succession of yamahoko departed from the Shijo Karasuma intersection at 9 a.m. with the Naginata Hoko float at the front.
Kento Hayashi, 10, played the symbolic role in the festival of a “chigo,” which means infant child in Japanese.
Because of their presumed innocence and purity, chigo were supposed to represent "kami" deities during Shinto festival.
When Hayashi used a sword to cut a “shimenawa” sacred rope on the Naginata Hoko to release the sacred spirits with his body thrust forward, spectators cheered loudly, marking the start of the grand procession.
Kento Hayashi, 10, plays a symbolic role in the festival that is designed to drive the crowds wild when he cuts a “shimenawa” (sacred rope) with a sword to release sacred spirits. It was a key feature of the grand procession of “yamahoko” floats in Kyoto’s Shimogyo Ward on July 17. (Yoshiko Sato)
At the crossing of Shijo and Kawaramachi streets, parade attendants performed “tsujimawashi,” a methodical turn of the enormous “yamahoko” floats, wowing revelers.
In the evening, the Shinko-sai festival was held, a shrine ritual to welcome Susano-o no Mikoto, the major deity to which Yasakajinja shrine in Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward is dedicated.
The Yamahoko processions are the highlights of the festival and traditionally held twice, before and after the festival’s most important ritual “Mikoshitogyo.”
During the July 17 Yamahoko procession that was held prior to Mikoshitogyo in the Shinko-sai festival, three “mikoshi” portable shrines paraded through the center of the city after being purified by a Shinto priest inside a shrine.
After a “shimenawa” sacred rope is cut, the Yamahoko Junko, the grand procession of traditional “yamahoko” floats, begins with a series of "yamahoko" floats following after the Naginata Hoko float. (Yoshiko Sato)
Each mikoshi carries a different deity.
Three mikoshi are expected to return to the shrine for the Kanko-sai Festival on July 24 after being temporarily housed in what is known as “otabisho” in Shijojicho.
The Naginata Hoko float, which leads the Yamahoko Junko procession, moves through Shijo-dori street in Kyoto’s Shimogyo Ward on July 17 as part of the month-long Gion Festival. (Kenta Sujino)
Parade attendants perform “tsujimawashi,” a methodical turn of the enormous floats, with the Tsuki Hoko float in Kyoto’s Shimogyo Ward on July 17. Individual floats are maneuvered in different ways. (Yoshiko Sato)
The “tsujimawashi” maneuver is performed on the Kanko Hoko float, with split bamboo laid out under its wheels, and water used to help it slide as parade attendants push it from the side to make its turn. (Yoshiko Sato)
Three golden “mikoshi” portable shrines are turned around by worshippers who take turns carrying them on their shoulders while shouting in rhythm to make the move. (Yoshiko Sato)