Hello everyone! Again KYOTO topic here.
“GION” is a district of KYOTO (nowadays known as GEISHA district) in front of “YASAKA Shrine” which used to be called “GION GOZU-TENNOH Shrine”.
“GOZU-TENNOH” means “ox-head heavenly king” and is said to be the incarnation of “SUSANOH-NO-MIKOTO (aka simply “SUSANOH”), a Shinto god who is the younger brother of “AMATERASU-OHMIKAMI” mentioned last time, and is said to have got rid of the “YAMATA-NO-OROCHI (Eight-forked Serpent)” recorded in the oldest Japanese mythology, “KOJIKI”.
The SUSANOH also appears as “YAKUSHI-NYORAI (the Medical Buddha, aka Bhaisajyaguru)”, so you may wonder why we Japanese worship the divinities of Shinto and the deities of Buddhism together.
This thought called “SHIN-BUTSU SHUGOH (Syncretization of Shinto with Buddhism)” which dates at least as far back as the NARA period in Japan (710-794) and which is an act of religious devotion, a very rational idea in a sense (!?)
The Japanese character which is sometimes regarded as unique in the world accepted generously both of the lessons from Japanese ancient god (Shinto) and the teachings introduced from the Asian continent (Buddhism) all together.
Talking about GION MATSURI which is also called “GION-san” and well liked by people in KYOTO.
The origin of this festival is said to be the “GION-GORYOUE (a ceremony for the repose of a departed soul)” which was held during HEIAN Period (794-1192) in order to pray that the epidemic or the famine which take place every year will die down.
The main event of GION MATSURI is the “YAMAHOKO-JUNKO (literally translated to be “Mountain and Spear Parade”) which is a parade of beautifully decorated floats called “YAMA (a mountain)” and “HOKO (a spear)”.
As you can see the image of “HOKO” in the left, a spear is set on the top of a parade float, which derives from the 66 spears put up on the ground to drive away the evil spirits when an epidemic prevailed at that time.
In the image of “YAMA” in the right, a pine tree is displayed on a float making a scenery in the mountains.
This “YAMA” float is said to have been added to this parade later than the “HOKO” float in MUROMACHI period (1338-1573) to more and more entertain people.
The day before this parade is called “YOIYAMA” where plenty of “CHO-CHINs (Japanese paper lanterns)” suspended from each float are lit in the night and people are strolling in YUKATA (a simple summer KIMONO explained here), creating an atmosphere characteristic of mysterious Japan.
The YAMAHOKO-JUNKO parade starts from a ritual to cut down a “SHIMENAWA (sacred rice-straw rope)” by a “CHIGO”, a costumed child of festivity who is regarded as a living god.
After this ritual, all those luxurious and splendid floats led by the first float called “NAGINATA-HOKO (float with halberd) advance slowly on the rhythm of “GION-BAYASI (traditional Japanese orchestra with small drums, flutes, and gongs)”.
From this year, the YAMA-HOKO JUNKO parade is taken place twice during the GION-MATSURI, and 33 floats in total are seen in the district.
This event has been registered on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The floats are magnificently decorated with carpets or cloths woven Chinese or Persian style as well as western tapestries together with gorgeous metallic ornaments and engravings.
By the way, when my husband visited KYOTO on business before, the day happened to fall on the day of YOIYAMA mentioned above.
Right in front of the hotel where he stayed in, the first float was parked and he was luckily able to ride on the float from the second floor of the hotel. (Incidentally, only men can ride on a float)
In addition, he saw from his room on 7th floor the top of the spear of a HOKO float.
He also witnessed a small shrine-like box set there and in which a petit doll holding a sword look like SUSANOH (GOZU-TENNOH) was placed.
The top of the float reaches the 7th floor of a hotel, amazing isn’t it!?
Well, as you may know, there are many MATSURIs held throughout the archipelago.
Of them, the 3 major MATSURIs are: GION-MATSURI picked up this time, TENJIN-MATSURI in Osaka and SANNOH-MATSURI in TOKYO.
From now on, there will be expected many MATSURIs in my place, TOCHIGI prefecture too!