Gion matsuri

Gion matsuri
   The Gion matsuri or Gion-e was originally a Buddhist goryo-e held to dispel pestilence. It is said to have been first performed on the orders of emperor Seiwa in 869 but started as an annual festival of the capital a century later during the Enyu era, 969-984. It was discontinued in the fourteenth century but revived in the ninth year of Meio, 1500. After the Meiji restoration the festival was conducted as a wholly Shinto affair, though it still incorporated Buddhist themes. It was briefly discontinued during the postwar occupation (1946-51). The main festival performed throughout July at the Yasaka jinja (Kyoto) is probably the largest in Japan and includes shrine rites on 10 and 15th July and on July 16/17 and 24th mixed processions of 'yama' and 'hoko' floats, the 'yamaboko-junko'.
   On the evening of the 17th there is a shinko-sai in which the mikoshi of the Gion kami are taken from the Yasaka shrine to an o-tabisho. 'Yama' (mountains) are floats topped with pine or cedar trees and borne on poles by teams of fifty men. They are regarded as himorogi and most carry 'dolls' (formerly actors) representing scenes from No plays and legendary events including Shinto, Buddhist and Shugendo themes. The gigantic and exotically decorated hoko are ornamental tower floats; wheeled vehicles weighing several tons and up to twenty-four metres high, each topped with a sakaki tree and also regarded as himorogi. The hoko carry art treasures or represent yoki-yoku, traditional sung stories, many of which are classic Chinese legends. Many residents participate by opening their houses and displaying precious art objects including screens (byobu). Gion matsuri are also performed in Hakata at the Kushida jinja where floats called yamagasa weighing a ton are carried by teams of 28 in an exciting 5km race starting at 4.59am on July 15. Other notable Gion matsuri with variations are the Kokura gion daiko featuring taiko (drum) performances (July 10-12th), Narita gion-e close to Narita airport in Chiba with ten impressive floats and numerous mikoshi (July 7-9th), Tajima gion matsuri, Fukushima which offers kabuki performances (July 19-21st), Tobata gion yamagasa, Fukuoka whose floats carry flags during the day and turn into mountains of light produced by chochin (lanterns) at night (July 13-15th) and Yamaguchi gion matsuri, Yamaguchi where the performers of a dance called sagi-mai are dressed as sagi, snowy herons (July 20-27th).

A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. .

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