琵琶湖大花火大会2014 — The Great Fireworks at Lake Biwa 2014

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, nothing says summer in Japan like a firework. A very impressive and massive one is the one in Ōtsu city (大津市) at Lake Biwa (琵琶湖), east of Kyoto in Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県). For an hour, the skies above the city and lake are illuminated by the fireworks in a way that no one will forget so quickly. This year, although there was really heavy rain, the people in Ōtsu managed to make a magnificent firework again.

祇園祭後祭の宵山 — Gion Matsuri Ato Matsuri’s Yoiyama

Different to saki-matsuri’s yoiyama, the yoiyama of ato-matsuri (July 21-23) is not as big. Only the neighborhoods of the floats themselves are shut down for motorized traffic and you will also find no food stalls on Karasuma street. It seems like a much more intimate atmosphere, even though there are still a lot of people cramped up in Kyōto’s small streets.

祇園祭前祭の山鉾巡行 — Gion Matsuri Saki-Matsuri’s Procession of the Floats

As I had to work this year, I could only see the first forty minutes of saki-matsuri’s parade (July 17). But well, here are some of the pictures.


The child that sits on the first float and sometimes even is lifted out of the float, is called chigo (稚児) in Japanese. I will follow up on what a chigo is in an extra post later.

When preparing for the procession to start, the traffic lights as well as road signs along Shijo, Kawaramachi and Oike streets are pulled to the side, so that they won’ disturb the taller floats.

Before every of the yama floats starts the procession, there is a ritual called kuji aratame (くじ改め), which can be seen in the third and second last pictures. There, Kyōto’s incumbent mayor receives a letter from a representative of each float with the float’s name and “starting number” on it and reads it out loud, to make sure that there is no mistake in the order of the floats.

 

祇園祭前祭の宵山 — Gion Matsuri Saki Matsuri’s Yoiyama

As I was really busy throughout July, I thought I’d do some collective posts about all of this year’s Gion Matsuri (saki matsuri and ato matsuri) after Gion Matsuri has ended, which it did yesterday, July 31.

So above is some pictures of saki matsuri’s yoiyama (July 15-16), which is the part where you can walk around the neighborhood of the floats and see them all and even get on them.

天神祭その2 — Tenjin Matsuri, part 2

Nothing says summer in Japan like festivals and fireworks. Tenjin matsuri offers both. It even has a third feature which is very popular in summer: sitting by (here even on) a river and enjoying the evening coolness.

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 festival’s 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.