Gion Matsuri

Gion Matsuri is one of the most popular Japanese festivals. It is the festival of the Yasaka Shrine (Yasaka Jinja). In its original form this festival was held to please the gods who according to beliefs cause fire, floods and earthquakes. The festival is organized in the city of Kyoto. It lasts during whole month of July. It reaches its peak with the Yamaboko Junkō parade on the 17th of July.

The central part of Kyoto becomes paradise for pedestrians on three nights preceding the big parade. These nights are called yoiyoiyoiyama (the 14th of July), yoiyoiyama (the 15 th of July) and yoiyama (the 16th of July). During three days some rich private houses in the district of kimono merchants are opened to whoever wants to explore them. This tradition is known as Byōbu Matsuri or Folding Screen Festival.

Streets are filled with stalls offering various Japanese delicacies like yakitori (skewered chicken), takoyaki (fried or grilled octopus), traditional sweets etc. It highly probable that you shall also see girls wearing yukata type of kimono. They carry traditional bags and paper fans.

Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, Japan
Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, Japan

The Yamaboko Junkō parade includes 32 floats or yamaboko as they are called. There are two types of floats. There are 23 yama floats and 9 hoko floats. All floats are beautifully decorated according to different themes. Hoko floats are the bigger ones. They weigh about 12 tons. 30-40 men pull such a float. Two men are guiding them.

Before the parade actually begins there is a special ceremony with the participation of the city mayor. Very important person in the ceremony is a boy known as chigo. He wears Shinto clothes and is crowned by a golden phoenix. He is chosen by famous Kyoto merchant families. He has to pass different purification ceremonies. Chigo spends weeks before the parade in complete isolation. On the day of parade he is carried atop the float as he must not touch the ground. His duty is to cut the shimenawa (sacred rope) with only one stroke. When the ritual is completed the parade can begin.