天神祭その1 – Tenjin-matsuri, part 1

The Tenjin-matsuri has, similar to Gion-matsuri, more than 1,000 years of history and, as Gion-matsuri, it is one of the three most important Japanese festivals. But, as it is a festival of Ōsaka and not of Kyōto, it has a different atmosphere. 

The festival is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, who lived from 845 to 903 and is now deified as the god of learning and art, Tenman Tenjin. 

Although it starts around the end of June, the main events take place on the last two days, July 24th and 25th. On July 25, however, it reaches its climax in the processions on land and on water with some 3,000 people and finally ending in huge fireworks.

The pictures above were taken at the first event of July 25th, the honmiya-sai (本宮祭) and at the procession on the land rikuto gyoretsu (陸渡御列).

Pictures of the procession on the water as well as the firework come a bit later.

And for those of you who are interested in seeing how exactly a float which cannot be steered by itself is being handled when arriving at a point where it is necessary to turn, watch this. ;-)

So today’s ato-matsuri’s parade took place with the ten floats that had not taken part in the parade of saki-matsuri. Although all the floats were nice to look at, the star was, of course, the rebuilt Ōfune-hoko, taking part for the first time in 150 years.

大船鉾 – Ōfune-hoko

This year, for the first time in 150 years, Ōfune-hoko will take part in Gion Festival again. First built in 1422, it was lost in 1864 in a fire, with only some of the treasures one can see on the float being saved. The float itself, i.e. its frame and wheels, was destroyed completely. In 2014, the restoration works were finished at a total cost of 120 million Yen.

Ōfune-hoko can be seen during this year’s ato-matsuri parade tomorrow, July 24th, where it will be the very last float.

Two days before Saki Matsuri’s parade, Kyōto’s big Shijō and Karasuma Streets will be partially closed down for any motorized traffic, creating a walking space four lanes wide. 

There, one can admire the majestic floats which will be pulled through the city in the parade on June 17th, with the biggest ones up to around 25 meters in height and around 12 tons in weight. Also remarkable is the fact that none of the floats, not even the biggest ones, use any nails. Only ropes keep them from falling apart.

On Karasuma Street, one can find any (Japanese) finger food they might possibly want.

A detail of Kuronushi-yama (黒主山) seen as a reflection in the remainders of a previous rain shower.

祇園祭 — Gion Festival

The Gion Festival is one of the three important Japanese festivals as well as, of course, Kyōto’s biggest festival.

It takes place during July, with the main events being the parade of the floats, which are called yama (山) and hoko (鉾). This year for the first time in 49 years, the procession of the floats, which is called yama boko junkō (山鉾巡行) in Japanese, is divided the traditional way again, having two processions, one of the saki-matsuri and one of the ato-matsuri

On top of all that, this year the “Big ship float” or Ōfune-hoko (大船鉾) in Japanese, will be taking part in the ato-matsuri for the first time since 1864, when it was destroyed during a fire.

Thus, the Gion Festival does not only show a newly constructed float, but also returns to its roots as regards the different parts of the festival, making this year a special year in the festival’s history.

The festival’s history itself goes back more than a thousand years, first held in 869 C.E. as a festival for the gods to ward off the so-called “summer disease”, as Kyōto is unbelievably hot and humid in summer. 

Nowadays, the festival attracts more than a million people not only from Japan, but from all over the world, who come to see the procession of the floats.

As many people as there are, as little do they normally know about the festival, its meaning and the things going on. So for those interested in it, or those who already have been there or still want to go, I would like to introduce you to a website called gionfestival.com. It is made by Catharine Pawasarat, who has been studying the festival for more than twenty years and has created this great website to share the information she gathered over the years. 

For those who are in Kyōto and planning to see tomorow’s saki-matsuri procession, how about having a look at it for a last-minute read? ;-)

詩仙堂 — Shisendō

The Shisendō (the official name is Ōtotsu-ka (凹凸窠)) is a temple in Northeast Kyōto in the Higashiyama district. It was founded in 1641 by Ishikawa Jōzan, who was a scholar of classical Chinese Literature as well as a landscape architect and he also mastered a Chinese calligraphy style called reisho in Japanese. The temple derives its name from the portraits of 36 poets of classical Chinese literature which are hanging inside the temple. 

One can enjoy the wonderful view and peace of a small stone garden, which you can see on the picture. When walking a bit away from the main building, one will find themselves in the beautiful inner main garden of which it is said that it features one-hundred different types of flowers. The silence of this place is only interrupted by the occasional sound of a bamboo tube clacking against a stone.

 

袈裟 — Kesa

After a really long absence, I want to talk about one of Kyōto’s many traditional handicraft businesses: the maker of stoles for Buddhist monks, so-called “kesa”. The cloth, which you can also see on the pictures, is woven on hand-looms, also making use of golden threads. The prices for a kesa vary broadly, but there are kesa in the upper price range reaching into the millions (of Yen).

When weaving, the cards with the holes in it tell the hand-loom mechanically which threads to raise so that the correct pattern will be produced on the final cloth. 

Burning the dead grass off Mount Wakakusa in Nara. (Photo of the day on Japanese Wikipedia)