Kyoto/The Gion Matsuri

Kyoto/The Gion Matsuri
Gion Matsuri in 1920s

The Gion Matsuri is a long-celebrated festival in Kyoto, as well as important cultural heritage of Kyoto. It is dedicated to the Yasaka Shrine (formerly the Gion Shrine) sanctuary on the eastern fringe of historical Kyoto. The Shirne was constructed in 656. In 869, the mikoshi (divine palanquin) of Gion Shrine were paraded through the streets of Kyoto to ward off an epidemic that had hit the city. This was the beginning of the Gion Matsuri.

Yasaka Shrine
Yasaka Shrine

Nowadays, a large number of ceremonies unfold over the entire month of July. However, most people still equate the Gion Matsuri with the Yamaboko junko ( float parade), the parade that takes place on the morning of July 17. Thirty-two float-carts leave their home base- a couple of adjoining neighborhoods in the Muromachi kimono and proceed in single file on a three-kilometer course over several major avenues in the center of the town.

The parade has long historical roots and went through several times of evolution. At the beginning, the float parades were started as a mere sideshow to amuse the gods. However it grew such that they attracted elite attention and were converted into a festival shared by all citizens. The festival was seriously disrupted by several devastated fire and WWII, but it was the postwar period that saw the greatest changes. Not only was the festival listed as an important cultural property of the Japanese state but the parade was redirected from the perimeter of Yasaka Shrine parish to large avenue that offered more room for spectators.

The Gion Matsuri is a moment where the intangible heritage of  Kyoto connect with and embraced  the tangible heritage of Kyoto.

Gion Matsuri Parade
Gion Matsuri Parade

Reference:

BRUMANN, C. (2009) Outside the glass case: The social life of urban heritage in Kyoto. American Ethnologist. 36 (5). p.277-299.

 

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