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? ;-)