■Gion Matsuri (Gion Festival)
History :In 869
Emperor Seiwa dispatched his special messenger to Yasaka Shrine to erect
66 halberds representing the 66 provinces of the country. The
festival became a regular annual event from 970. After many interruptions
caused by civil wars in 12th and 16th century, the basic style of festival
we see today was from in 15th century and the present scale and splendor
emerged in the 16th century. From around the 15th century the festival
was carried out by towns people of Kyoto (Machi-shu) who accumulated
powers through trade and commercial activities.
Town people’s festival : While maintaining the basic element as a prayer against illness, the Gion matsuri is the festive event of the year for towns folk and an occasion to reconfirm their pride, traition, power, and solidarity as townspeople. Theentire festival today is organized by the townspeople. Each float (hoko or yama) represents certain part of the city and is owned, maintained, supported, manned and paraded by the specific town(s).
One month festival : Although
the parade on 17th july is the climax of the festival, Gin Matsuri is
a huge festival that starts on July 1th and continues for month.
Byobu Matsuri : A few day preceding the parade people who live in the downtown area or along the route of procession open thir homes and exhibit their family treasures to passersby who are touring the city to inspect floats in the Eve of the parade. The treasures at display have been handed down to family through generations. Hence the festival is also called Byobu Matsuri, the Screen festival.
Yama and Hoko : The
hoko (halberd, later used in religious ceremony) float each carry a
Hayashi (festival music) players of about 40-50 members. (Among yama
floats, Iwato-yama, Kitakannon-yama, Minamikannon-yama all have the
same style as hoko, but can be recognized as yama by the pine tree on
the top) Hoko weigh about 12 tons with a height of 25 meters (roof top
is about 8 metes high). Diameter of wheel is 2 meters and length of
carriage body is 4.5 meters. The assembling and disassembling
process takes about five day and requirs 35 men per day. Hoko
is pulled by 30 to 50 people (Hikiko), with two Ondori (conduct the
movement of hikiko) and four Yanekata (who stand on roof and control
the move of the upper pole or Masaki, and pilot when parading narrow
Yamahoko-Junko : The
grand parade of floats. The parade begins with “Ochgosan” (a boy,
selected from towns people of Naginata hoko, wear decorative kimono
and sit on the front seat of the float during the parade) cutting arope
attached to the Naginata-hoko by sword. Each hoko or yama must
present their lot to the Mayor to show that their float is in the correct
order. This ceremony is called “Kujiaratame” or presenting of
lot and each town has its own formalities for presentations. Towns
people who are the main organizers and supporters of each float wear
“Kamishimo” (kimono worn on formal occasion) and walk in front of hoko
or yama. Each hoko or yama has its own tunes for Hayashi played
during the procession.
Relationship with Shinto and
Yasaka-shrine : Shinto is Japan’s indigenous religion.
It is a loosely structured set of practices, creeds, and attitudes rooted
in local communities. The worship of “Kami” or divinity slowly emerged
at the dawn of Japanese history and was established as an imperial religious
system during Nara (8th century) and Heian (8 to 12th century), and
was in constant interaction with Buddhism and Confucianism.