Kyoto’s 1100-Year-Old Gion Festival

Shining because the best-known pageant in Japan, the Gion Competition takes place yearly over the entire month of July. It is a testimony to the neighborhood spirit of downtown Kyotoites that this annual pageant has taken place nearly repeatedly because it began within the 12 months 869.

Whereas consisting of an array of occasions, probably the most visually beautiful are the 2 grand processions of floats (Yamaboko Junko) on July 17th and 24th. The procession gained recognition as a cultural World Heritage occasion by UNESCO in 2009.

Throughout the days main as much as the processions, guests can watch the big float buildings being constructed and adorned with treasures. Wandering the streets rewards us with cultural riches displayed on the floats and in personal houses.

The three nights earlier than the processions (referred to as yoiyama) provide various feasts for the senses, together with phenomenal folks watching. We will take pleasure in getting misplaced within the crowds amidst the otherworldly music, boisterous pageant road life and intriguing meals stalls.

The pageant originated with a ritual within the 12 months 869, to placate offended spirits believed to be casting pestilence upon the Kyoto populace. Later that morphed into an annual ritual of processions to please close by Yasaka Shrine’s residing deities, and to request purification of any dangerous power for the 12 months.

Quick-forward to the 20th century, and trendy hygiene relieved Kyotoites of the diseases associated to its mid-summer wet season. Nonetheless, the torrential rains proceed to fall each July, reminding us of the pageant’s raison-d’etre. When festival-goers really feel oppressed by the warmth and humidity or often get caught in a downpour, what can we do, apart from step right into a dry and funky shopfront, and pray for aid?

Climate would not deter many. Greater than 1,000,000 guests a 12 months testify to the spectacular nature of the Gion Competition.

The Floats

The phrase yamaboko refers back to the two sorts of floats featured within the pageant: 10 gigantic hoko and 23 smaller yama. It is unimaginable to stay unimpressed by the gargantuan hoko, that are as much as 25 meters tall (together with the spares, they rival a Eight-storey constructing), weigh as much as 12 tons, and are pulled on wheels by tens of heaving males.

Extremely, they consist of easy timbers lashed along with superbly symmetrical lengths of rope. Match with gigantic wheels and adorned with priceless inventive ornaments collected over centuries, and voila! Yamaboko have been referred to as “shifting museums,” and signify a globally distinctive assortment of textiles and different art work, viewable shut up and with no glass between you.

Although the hoko are stupendous, dimension is not all the pieces. The yama are related to extra residential neighborhoods. Right here one could benefit from the conventional convivial feeling of the pageant from many years passed by, away from the madding crowds. Not way back it was a neighborhood affair, when folks walked a couple of blocks to sip tea and go to with associates. Exploring the again streets and pageant limits, you may nonetheless relish on this laid-back environment.

Every yama is devoted to a singular deity or deities – from a Zen grasp, to warrior monks, to the bodhisattva of compassion. The unique deities’ spirits are believed to reside of their sculpted likenesses, inventive masterpieces in their very own proper, and are revered through the pageant in native, typically momentary shrines. The standard structure is itself exemplary.

Whereas the July 17 procession options 23 yama and 9 of the ten hoko, the July 24 procession stars 10 yama and the lately re-introduced Nice Ship Hoko. The later a part of the pageant is mostly smaller, quieter and extra intimate. The sooner half is an intense sensory extravaganza that you’ll always remember.

The one occasions the annual pageant has been interrupted since 869 had been throughout main fires and main wars, when the native neighborhoods had been razed, the native inhabitants decimated or scattered.

Every time the native neighborhoods have joined collectively to deliver the pageant again to life, making it a significant supply of civic satisfaction.

These days challenges to the pageant embody the altering city panorama, skyrocketing actual property costs, fast residential inhabitants overturn, and even the touristic flip the pageant’s taken.

After lasting for 1100 years on the premise of neighborhood cohesion and cultural and non secular devotion, can these qualities adapt to trendy life? With so many guests, how may pageant attendance assist guarantee its perpetuation? Gion Competition presents a singular sustainability problem.

Yasaka Shrine, Geisha and Kimono

The “Gion” in “Gion Competition” is a neighborhood recognized for its geisha courtesans*. This Gion space grew up across the Yasaka Shrine, the residence of the deities to whom the Gion Competition is devoted. Just like the Gion Competition itself, Yasaka Shrine has been a well-liked pilgrimage vacation spot for greater than a millennium.

Tea retailers sprung up within the Gion neighborhood to serve the pilgrims, entertainers lightened their spirits, and refinement of the leisure ultimately led to the geisha tradition. The hyperlinks between geisha, Yasaka Shrine, and the Gion Competition proceed immediately.

In the meantime, close by – on the opposite facet of the Kamo River from the shrine and geisha – the middle of Japan’s kimono business thrived.

Competition Artwork as Social Subversion

As Kyoto’s kimono retailers grew richer over the centuries, the pageant grew to become a possibility to bypass Kyoto’s strict social mores. Authorities-imposed rules – concerning clothes and constructing facades, for instance – had been designed in order that solely aristocrats may brazenly exhibit private wealth.

Nonetheless, these guidelines did not apply to the Gion Competition floats. By adorning the floats with flamboyant and unique treasures, rich kimono retailers flaunted their riches and accompanying cultural erudition. It was an oblique, however not-so-subtle method to thumb their noses at their social betters.

Whereas Kyoto aesthetics are typically recognized for his or her easy restraint, Gion Competition floats are past baroque. Their decorations just about ooze with gilding, baroque metalwork and attention-grabbing tapestries, all juxtaposed willy-nilly in a small floor space. And all layered with non secular and cultural references.

A sequence of tapestries displayed by varied yamaboko, for instance, depict totally different scenes of Taoist Immortals performing miraculous feats with their supernatural powers. The Tsuki Boko float’s ceiling options gilt work of an array of followers, each containing a distinct scene from the basic Japanese novel, Story of Genji.

Moving into neighborhood spirit, historic kimono households and corporations brazenly show their personal heirlooms all through the pageant. Normally recognized for his or her exclusivity and privateness, this act of generosity is called the Folding-Display Competition (Byobu Matsuri).

Although each the kimono industries and geisha “floating world” have diminished in dimension and social function, these two nonetheless come collectively through the Gion Competition. Kimono tradition nonetheless kinds a spine of the pageant, and geisha make formal and casual appearances all through varied pageant occasions, trying remarkably unperturbed by the summer season swelter.

Brouhaha, Gion Competition Fashion

Road meals stalls and people-watching apart, the Gion Competition is just not a Mardi Gras-style get together: the floats and processions are formal and stately. Nonetheless, the pageant does have a shouting, sweating, stomping facet that may be simple to unintentionally miss.

On the darkish evening of July 16, moveable shrines are hoisted on the shoulders of lots of of boisterous, loincloth-clad males at Yasaka Shrine. Shimmering and shaking, they’re heaved and tossed, golden ornaments fluttering, a number of kilometers from their everlasting shrine residence to a brief abode in downtown Kyoto.

The three moveable shrines go totally different circuitous routes, the deities inside purifying shrine parishioners’ and their houses for the 12 months to return.

Then from July 17 to 24, the Yasaka Shrine deities “go to” downtown on the intersection of Shijo road and Teramachi Road, a sort of non secular public outreach. If you happen to concentrate, you may see how these small however very ornate cell shrines are an power focus of the processions. The floats pause as they go by, to pay respects to the deities and request purification for the approaching 12 months, till the following wet season.

On the evening of the 24th, the cell shrines get pitched and shaken all the best way again to Yasaka Shrine, taking on residence there once more for the remainder of the 12 months.

By the top of July all of the pageant goers have been purified by varied Gion Competition deities and the array pageant ceremonies. We will all look ahead to a superb 12 months, till it is time for an additional Gion Competition.

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