Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Kyoto, Day Two: Gion Matsuri

Japan is a country of festivals, and in Kyoto, the Gion Matsuri is one of the most famous (read more about it here and here). The procession of 32 festival carts (two types, hoko and yama) has been deemed an National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property (a mouthful!). We knew that we could visit the festival carts on display while we were in Kyoto (though we wouldn't get to see the parade), so we set off walking to find where they were parked. As we walked (and walked), all of a sudden we saw people running, many carrying video cameras and cameras, and we heard police whistles and saw traffic on one side of the street being stopped. Then we saw a procession coming towards us, led by the men above.

Then came these guys ... note the bus going by in the opposite lane!
And then this boy (look just under the umbrella)...
And another boy riding on a horse. As far as I can ascertain, the boy walking might be a page boy who accompanies the child on horseback--I believe he is the so-called sacred or "celestial" child--as he rides in the procession. This boy cuts the ribbon to begin the procession and rides on the lead float, the Naginata Hoko.
The small procession included these ladies. I love that they're carrying their purses.
And then we saw our first float: this is a hoko float, which has four massive wheels and is pulled during the procession by 30 to 40 men; a number of people can ride on hoko. You can see that they reach up almost 5 stories. (The yama floats are quite a bit smaller and are carried on long poles by 15 to 25 men.)
This is the hoko that we went up in ... I was so thrilled! I knew we'd get to see the floats, but I had no idea that we could climb up inside.
There are rather steep ladders that you climb up and down (cute little girl in her pretty pink kimono descending on the right).
You can see that it was quite crowded inside the floats; lots of folks in traditional dress, taking photos of their families.

And finally, a detail from one of the floats.

I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to see these remarkable objects. Not only are they amazing and beautiful, but they are part of a centuries-old tradition (like many things in Japan, I might add): the festival dates back to the ninth century, and the current incarnation (more or less) dates to the sixteenth century. I felt honored, actually... arigato, Kyoto.

1 comment:

Robin said...

So fascinating and beautiful. Sounds like your timing was perfect.