Hawaii peace bell ceremony

Izumo Taisha in Hawaii was founded in 1906 and for the past 27 years has hosted a Hiroshima bell ringing ceremony. The bell was donated by the city of Hiroshima, which is twinned with Honolulu. Though it is a Buddhist-style bell, it’s housed in front of the splendid Izumo Taisha in Honolulu.

In the Youtube video of the ceremony, Ray Tsuchiyama introduces the shrine and Shinto in general. We learn that the shrine was shut down in WW2, returned to the Japanese-American community in 1961, and that it is now thriving. However, it’s worth noting that before WW2 there were ten other Izumo Taisha shrines dotted around Hawaii, and the video features the only one to have survived.

The first nine minutes consist of Shinto-related matters, then the video turns for the second part to the interfaith ceremony. Representatives of Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and the native Hawaiian religion are all included in the ecumenical event. (Our thanks to Ray Tsuchiyama for providing the link to this important and inclusive example of overseas Shinto.)

Death rites

Following the positive feedback to the posting about Hearn and the living dead, one or two readers have asked about funerals in Japan. One of the simplest overviews is given in William Penn’s The Expat’s Guide to Growing Old in Japan: What You Need to Know, from which the following extract is taken. It’s said that 90% of the population follow this kind of procedure, with exceptions being Christians, atheists and Shinto burials (see the series of postings on Shinto Way of Death). In recent years alternative forms, such as natural funerals, are on the increase, though still relatively rare.


The basic traditional funeral
“While the somber and rigid customs of the traditional funeral are quickly being redefined by the changing times, there is still a prevailing, basic funeral format in Japan that one should be familiar with. When someone dies, there is an o-tsuya (wake), followed by a kokubetsu-shiki (funeral). It is acceptable to attend either the wake or funeral or both.

Books and magazines on funeral etiquette suggest suitable hair styles, makeup, attire, and behavior for the kokubetsu-shiki, which is considered the formal funeral service. Subdued is the operational word. Black clothes and stockings, toned-down makeup and hairstyle are recommended. Pearls are the only really acceptable jewelry. For men, etiquette dictates a dark suit, tie, socks and shoes or a black armband if a suit is not available.

A tomb in Okinawa with offerings scattered in front

A picture of the deceased is placed at the center of the Buddhist altar. (If one is something of a control freak, they might want to select and prepare their own photo ahead of time just for this occasion.) A tablet with the person’s new kaimyo Buddhist name written on it also will be displayed. In front of the altar, a table to offer incense is provided. As mourners pass by, they bow to those present before offering incense with their fingers. The number of times this is done is determined by what sect of Buddhism one belongs to, but it is likely that many attendees probably don’t know for sure themselves and just follow the lead of the person in front.

The body is displayed in a wooden casket (hitsugi). As the visitation comes to an end, funeral attendees may gaze at the deceased and place flowers or mementos into the coffin before it is ceremonially nailed shut. This is perhaps the most powerful and emotional moment of the kokubetsu-shiki.

Next, the body is taken to the crematorium. This is the part of the funeral that is usually attended by only family and close friends who are transported by rented bus or car to the crematorium. Those who are not going to the crematorium stand and bow until the hearse has pulled away. At the crematorium, the family witnesses the placement of the casket into the crematory.

Shinto burials are relatively rare

After this, they are guided to a private room where they are served tea and snacks of cookies and rice crackers. They sit and chat as they wait for the body to be cremated. This interval serves to give the family a few minutes of respite from the somber proceedings. Then, they are led to the door where the remains will be brought out and attendees use chopsticks to pick up the bones. This will be overseen by a funeral attendant who makes sure the bones are placed into the urn in the proper order.

The bones are not pulverized to ashes as they often are overseas. The ashes are taken home by the chief mourner and placed on the family’s Buddhist altar for 49 days until they are interred at a temple or other location.

The crematorium ceremony, a combination of utter realism and the bizarrely surreal, is often portrayed as almost ghoulish. On the contrary, at many of the funerals I have attended, there was a somber beauty in the fact that the loved one is not left behind but brought home to be with the family so they have a little longer to allow the gradual shock of separation to fade. Perhaps, one day even this moment of somber beauty may be seen as a fleeting tradition of the past. As society continues to alter the way it deals with death, even the concept of a funeral and ashes is changing.”

Ponsonby-Fane exhibition 2

In the prewar years Shinto scholar Richard Ponsonby-Fane was much taken with the area and lived in an old Japanese house

The great scholar and eccentric, Richard Ponsonby Fane, was an interwar resident of Kyoto who turned himself into the foremost Shinto expert of his day – and that includes Japanese! It’s a remarkable achievement, all the more so when you consider he was an aristocrat who had forsaken a stately pile to come and live in Japan. He must have devoted all his leisure time to the mastery of contemporary and ancient Japanese while pursuing local and shrine history. (He had no need to work for a living.) He died shortly before WW2, though his private secretary Sato Yoshijiro continued to live in the city for long afterwards and to cherish his legacy.  One person who knew Sato-san is woodblock artist Richard Steiner, and he has kindly written a report below for Green Shinto of the Ponsonby-Fane exhibition now showing at Shimogamo Shrine.  (Part One of this two-part series featured family reminiscences of Ponsonby Fane by a descendant of Sato Yoshijiro’s brother.)

Ponsonby-Fane’s country seat in Somerset, England

Richard Steiner writes…

The exhibition house, a large, wooden, very well made, two-story traditional home originally belonged to one of the shrine families, the Itcho clan. It then became the home of one of Kyoto’s mayors, and lastly the home/studio of a well-known Nihonga painter. The shrine got the property, had it preserved and modernized inside while keeping the wood and doors and windows and garden all in working condition. The building is located on the south bank of the Izumi-gawa river (where river means trickle). A magnificent job.
The house has many small rooms; Ponsonby’s exhibition occupies two and a half of them, in different parts of the first floor (second floor is closed). On display are lots of documents in English and Japanese, letters, books in Western and Japanese bindings, personal items of Ponsonby’s, one great photograph of him surrounded by the Sato-clan, a stone rubbing and a color photograph of his memorial stone at Kamigamo Shrine, and more. There are also the six published books of Ponsonby’s, the second, red binding edition, sitting on a window sill: (I have the first edition, a blue bound set, which I bought directly from Sato Yoshijiro).
All of this life-work is really smartly displayed, thanks to exhibition organiser, Araki san (the young son of Shimogamo Shrine’s present chief priest). We also met Mr Hiyama, a cousin of the Sato’s, who lived in the Sato house until they all passed away, and, ergo, became the keeper of Everything Ponsonby. .He understands this position and honors it completely.
This exhibition is the first instalment, with plans for another to be set up after September with interesting material, which is being attended to at present.

The house near Kamigamo Shrine where Ponsonby Fane lived, now taken over by a company

For more about Ponsonby-Fane, see here.

Hearn 21): The living dead

At Obon people burn bunches of incense to call back the dead

Today is Obon, ‘the Japanese day of the dead’, and an occasion about which Green Shinto has posted in several previous years. (Click here for reflections on Japanese and the dead, here for Kyoto’s Daimonji festival, and here for a comparison with Halloween.)

Obon is of course the supreme example of Japan’s cult of the dead, commonly referred to as ‘ancestor worship’, though ‘ancestor reverence’ would be nearer the mark. No one has written better on the subject than Lafcadio Hearn, whose Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation (1904) was devoted to the practice. Ironically, it was the last book he wrote before dying, and the book was published shortly after his death. (Click here to learn more about Hearn and ancestor worship).

Kyoto’s Daimonji festival on Aug 16 to send back the spirits of the dead after their visit back to their family homes (courtesy of Aaron Williamson)

In his book Hearn shows how the dead continue to live on in Japan, and how indeed they control the present. Time and again in his writing Hearn asserts that the living are ruled by the dead. Humans are not autonomous individuals able to think and act for themselves, but are guided by everyone who came before. ‘We are, each and all, infinite compounds of fragments or anterior lives,’ Hearn wrote in Gleanings in Buddha-Fields (1897), p.92.

It is a recurring theme in Hearn’s writings, and one that proved a rich vein, for it infuses his view of life with the power of the unseen past. The poet Edward Thomas, who surprisingly wrote a book about him, noted that he was ‘most individual when he submits to his favourite obsession, that of the infinite ancestry of every soul and every act.’ (Lafcadio Hearn, p.70)

The scale on which Hearn conceives things is vast. He writes of ‘unimaginably countless experiences in an immeasurable past’, of ‘trillions of trillions of ghostly memories’, of the ‘myriad million voices of all humanity’, of the ‘dim loving impulses of generations unremembered’, of ‘countless anterior existences’. ‘The mind is as much a composite of souls as the body is of cells,’ he writes in Chapter IV of Kokoro (1896).

IN Hearn’s view, then, every human is prone to the numberless experiences of an immeasurable past. A child’s natural love for its mother for example is born of ‘a million caresses in countless previous existences.’ It explains for him many of the mysteries of life, such as deja vu, why we thrill to certain kinds of music or to certain sights such as sunset. Although we like to think of ourselves as autonomous individuals, he notes in an inspired deconstruction of the self in an essay on ‘Dust’ that humans are so much more than that. On this day of all days, it’s a curiously comforting thought for those concerned about the prospect of death.

I, am individual; an individual soul! Nay, I am a population – a population unthinkable for multitude, even by groups of a thousand millions! Generations of generations I am, aeons of aeons! Countless times the concourse now making me has scattered, and mixed with other scatterings. Of what concern, then, the next disintegration?

Cemeteries at Obon time are full of lanterns to welcome back the spirits of the dead. For Lafcadio Hearn nothing was more central to Japanese culture than belief in the living dead.


In the Shinto-Buddhist framework, death is usually given over to Buddhist priests to take care of, for they have a greater concern with the afterlife and reincarnation. For Westerners used to a single funeral ceremony, the number of events held by Japanese families can be startiing. Depending on the sect the times of commemoration ceremonies vary, but in general they take place after 7 days, 14 days, 21 days, 28 days, 35 days, 42 days, and 49 days. These are considered the first 7 steps to a deceased person becoming a “hotoke-sama” (buddha). Seven being a magic number, you could say that the deceased are helped thereby to enter ‘seventh heaven’!

Yet the process does not stop after 49 days, for there are the 1 year, 3 year, 7 year, 13 year, 21 year and 33 year memorial ceremonies as well. Some sects have a 49 year ceremony too if relatives still survive. In addition, there is the annual Obon remembrance in mid-August, as well as grave-cleaning visits at equinox (Shubun and Shunbun) or year-end.  One can understand why Hearn saw the dead as occupying such an important place in Japanese culture!

The ceremonies are not only an important part of the mourning process, but serve to keep the deceased “alive” in the hearts of those left behind. The prayers are said to guide the dead in the afterworld, in that the chanting encourages them on their way. Similarly the constant incense burning for the first 49 days lights their path for them. There is a ghostly and poetic touch to some of the prayers, as illustrated below:

Fudaraku ya / Kishi utsu nami wa / Mikumano no / Nachi no oyama ni/ Hibiku taki tsuse

On Kannon’s island paradise, / Waves crash upon the shores; / In the sacred land of Kumano, /
Down Nachi Mountain, / The thundering waterfall cascades.

Commenting on the whole process, one Japanese remarks, ‘It’s a lot of work at times, but in the beginning it keeps you focused on the ceremonies and gets you through the first few weeks, and after that, the houji [memorial ceremonies] are a time for getting together and remembering people.’



Tohoku sacred mountain-island

Climbers ascend a rock wall on Kinkasan island mountain in 2016. (Photo by First Ascent Japan)

Sacred island in disaster-hit Miyagi becomes idyllic climb spot
By Maaahiko Ishikawa, Asahi Staff Writer, August 14, 2017

ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Prefecture–A mountain hit by landslides due to 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster is fast becoming a “holy place” for climbers worldwide.

Kinkasan, a rocky, remote island that looks like a single mountain, is drawing increasing attention, especially outside Japan, as sport climbing has been given the nod as an event in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The mainly state-owned island, which reaches up 445 meters, is within the precincts of Koganeyama Shrine.

Legend says a Shinto shrine was allowed to be built there after gold mined from Kinkasan was used for the national project to construct the Great Buddha in what is today’s Nara in 749 during the Nara Period (710-784).

Tohoku three sacred mountains
Kinkasan is so famous as a place of worship that it is deemed as one of the three prominent sacred sites in the Oshu region in northern Japan, along with Mount Osorezan in Aomori Prefecture and the Three Mountains of Dewa in Yamagata Prefecture.

“Not only the beautiful scenery and the difficult-to-climb rocks but also the venerable shrine and wandering deer apparently seem appealing to foreign people,” said Michiko Murakami, chief director of First Ascent Japan, a nonprofit group based in Sendai that comprises climbing lovers.

Konageyama Shrine entrance (Wikicommons)

The FAJ hit upon the idea of using the granite rock walls on the island for climbing. It started the Treasure Island Project in 2013 to revitalize damaged Kinkasan as a climbing spot.

First debris was removed and hiking trails reopened. The group also developed eight climbing courses and a map presenting the routes.

Those efforts attracted the attention of climbers overseas. The North Face climbing goods brand and other parties created a movie of climbers ascending Kinkasan. The footage was uploaded on YouTube as well.

In early May this year, a climbing event attracting more than 50 people from both Japan and abroad was held there. One-third of the participants came from outside Japan.

The history of climbing started mainly in Europe and an estimated 35 million people currently enjoy the activity. The pastime has also grown in popularity in Asia while the number of climbing lovers in Japan is on the rise especially as it was added to the Olympics.

James Pearson, 29, a climber representing Britain in the sport, said he became enchanted by Kinkasan and that the mountain would be over-subscribed and in danger if it was in Britain.

What is important is how to preserve the mountain while allowing people to enjoy climbing there, according to Pearson. He also said the rocky island could become a perfect climbing spot for Japan.

Konageyama Shrine Worship Hall (Wikicommons)

Hie Shrine: Tokyo power spot

Green Shinto has covered the current boom in ‘power spots’ on several occasions, and an overview of how, when and why it developed can be found in a previous posting here. Tokyo Daijingu is Kanto’s most famous example, though Hie Shrine also has its fans, as revealed in the article below.


Hie Shrine priests Hiroyuki Korehisa (left) and Hiroyuki Uchida stand in front of Sanno Inari Shrine’s torii. | Photo by Kit Nagamura

Akasaka: Sublime and surreal spots in Tokyo’s government district

A diplomat friend and I enjoy lunch at the Akasaka Capital Tokyu Hotel, in the governmental hub of Tokyo. As we part, he tips me off that there’s a little-known footpath from the hotel, leading uphill to the Hie Shrine, one of Tokyo’s most important Shinto sites. I decide to climb the discreet bamboo-shaded path for a quick visit.

By the time I reach Hie’s Shinmon gate, which sports elegantly layered roofs that lift at the tips like the wings of a heron, I find I’ve also climbed above the sounds of the city. I’m admiring the peaceful grandeur when a bit of monkey business catches my eye.

Where most shrines have guardian figures in the form of foxes or sacred komainu (lion dogs), Hie sports stone monkeys on either side of the haiden [Worship Hall], and its zuijin (warrior figures inside the main gate) are also larger-than-life simians. I head to the shrine offices to investigate.

Meeting with priests Hiroyuki Korehisa, 34, and Hiroyuki Uchida, 39, I get the scoop on the shine’s history, which is believed to date from the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), and enshrines Oyamakui-no-kami, the god of Kyoto’s Mount Hiei. In 1478, brilliant engineer and local lord Ota Dokan requisitioned the shrine to protect a castle he was constructing.

“The shrine has moved around a lot from its original location on the castle grounds to a new spot just outside the castle moat, in 1607, so that locals could visit it freely,” Korehisa explains. “It was reduced to ashes in the city-wide Meireki Fire of 1657, but rebuilt again in this location in 1659.”

As we stroll the grounds, I learn the shrine was again decimated in World War II bombings and the current concrete buildings were erected in 1958. To this day, though, the shrine’s mandate still includes protecting the castle grounds of old, today occupied by the Tokyo Imperial Palace. A plaque on the shrine’s inner gate proclaims its mission: Kojo no shizume (“Bringing peace to the old castle”).

I suddenly remember to inquire about the monkeys. The courtyard of pebbles crunch underfoot as the two priests and I walk over to the stone guardians. “It’s really difficult to explain Shinto gods,” Korehisa sighs. I nod and pat the sweat off my brow, knowing how enmeshed the stories can get. Korehisa points out that the monkeys are clad in hats, clothing, and even split-toed tabi socks. “The monkeys that inhabit Mount Hiei are believed to be the spiritual connectors between humans and the gods,” he explains with bracing brevity.

The male monkey, according to Korehisa, is known as Masaru. “You can hear the word for monkey, saru, in that name, right?” Depending on the Japanese characters you use to write Masaru, the name can mean “to win or excel” or “kindness,” or even “to send evil away quickly,” he says. The female monkey, he points out, clutches a small baby. “Japanese believe that monkeys have relatively easy pregnancies, and monkeys share the burden by raising their young in groups. That’s why people pray here for things like safety, easy childbirth and social kindness toward one another,” he says.

We pass tall storage shelters for the shrine’s mikoshi and dashi (portable shrines and floats) used in the biannual Sanno Matsuri, one of Tokyo’s three major festivals (along with the Kanda and Fukagawa festivals). Finally, we stand before a small fox shrine.

“The Sanno Inari is the only building that has survived here from 1659,” Korehisa says. “It has been repainted recently, so it looks new, but it’s over 350 years old.”

I’m delighted the little shrine outfoxed the flames, not least because it is the reason behind a beautiful tunnel of 90 vermilion torii that lead to it. “This entrance has become a popular power spot,” Korehisa says with pride, “and it was even used recently for a Vogue fashion shoot.”

Zen for Druids

What happens if you apply Zen to the Celtic tradition of Druidry?  It’s not something that would usually come to mind, though a book with that theme has just been published with neo-pagan specialists, John Hunt Publishing.

Druidry is a nature based religion that in recent years has been gaining in popularity. It seeks to make connections with the land and with ancestral spirits. In this it can be seen as part of the early animist/shaman religions that were worldwide before the Axial Age introduced more cerebral and ethically based practices.

So what would happen if you mixed Druidry with Zen?  Something close to Shinto, one might imagine!  Previous Green Shinto postings have dealt with the commonalities of Zen and Shinto, and how the two complemented each other in times past.  One looks to nature, the other to inner nature. Both look to dissolve the ego and find in the mirror a pure reflection.

It was with great interest therefore that we heard of the publication of this new book, and we look forward to reading it. Should any of our readers have already taken a look at it, we’d be delighted to hear your feedback.

Zen for Druids
A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Natureby Joanna van der Hoeven


The teachings of Zen Buddhism combined with the earth-based tradition of Druidry can create a holistic way of life that is deeply integrated with the seasons, the environment and the present moment. In soul-deep relationship we can use the techniques and wisdom from both traditions to find balance and harmony within our own lives. In this text we explore the concepts of the Dharma (the Buddha’s teachings) and how they relate to the wisdom of the Druid tradition. We also look at the Wheel of the Year in modern Druidry with regards to the Dharma, incorporating the teachings into every seasonal festival in an all-encompassing celebration of nature. We explore meditation, mindfulness, animism and integration with nature, learning how to find sustainable relationship in the work that we do, opening our souls to the here and now and seeing the beauty and wonder that enchants our lives in every waking moment. Step into a new life, fully awake and aware to the beauty of the natural world.Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, Witch, best-selling author and teacher. She is the co-founder of Druid College UK. Joanna moved to the UK in 1998, where she now lives with her husband in a small village in Suffolk near the coast of the North Sea. Woodbridge Suffolk United Kingdom

Published: October 28, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-78535-442-7
Price: $ 14.95 £ 8.99
Published: October 28, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-78535-443-4
Price: $ 5.99 £ 3.99
ABOUT JOHN HUNT PUBLISHINGJohn Hunt Publishing has published nearly 1500 titles since 2004. Subjects range from spirituality and philosophy to culture and politics in over 25 separate imprints, non fiction and fiction. www.johnhuntpublishing.com.


The circular Shinto mirror that ends where it begins

Shimogamo’s water festival

People carrying candles through the ice-cold water to pray for protection for their legs over the coming year, though this year mobile phones were also conspicuous

Shimogamo’s mitaraisai (water festival) is one of Green Shinto’s favourites, about which we’ve reported in previous years (see here for nice pics of 2014, or here for a full account of last year’s event, or here for an early account and mention of Kyoto’s power spot).

The season is hot and humid (this year around 32 degrees and 90% humidity) so cooling off in a cold sacred stream is most welcome. Particularly when it gives year-round protection to your legs!

When I say the water is ‘cold’, I mean absolutely freezing. The origins of the stream appear to be unknown, but it must come from deep underground for there is not even a touch of summer warmth. Instead the iciness is so painful that for the first few minutes it seems impossible to bear and people cry out in disbelief. Once in the stream however such is the pressure of the crowd behind that there is no escape by scampering for high ground. And soon, without even realising it, the body adjusts to the shock and what at first seemed intolerable gradually becomes bearable, even pleasant.  By the end, when people emerge, it’s with a smile!

Shimogamo Shrine in its best evening garb

In recent years the festival has grown much more popular and become a tourist event as much as a local rite, and the shrine has extended the time from four to nine days in all. They have also had to stake out waiting lines in zigzag fashion like at an airport, though at non-peak times you can just walk straight through and pay your 300 yen.

Each year I have the impression the shrine staff put their heads together and come up with a new idea how to improve the event. Pebbles from the river have been put up for sale. Sacred water is offered as a drink. Special ema are offered for Y200, which can be floated on the water. And this year for the first time there was a new style of fortune telling, with attendees splashing their blank fortune slips in water in order to reveal the result.

The fortune telling appeals to people of all ages, from babies to students to the elderly

Gion Festival 2017 leaflet

The highlight of today’s parade is the turning of the fixed wheel ‘hoko’ floats at Kyoto’s main intersection

This year’s Gion Festival happened to coincide with a three-day weekend, thanks to the public holiday today (July 17, the day of the main procession). It meant extra large crowds and extra large numbers of police, who for the first time on the Yoiyama evening insisted on one-way directions for the milling throng. In methodical Japanese fashion, anyone heading the wrong way against the flow of people was quickly hauled out and pointed in the right direction.

One of the protective ‘chimaki’ talisman on sale

The crowds were also noticeable for the increased number of foreigners this year. On a rough count, I estimated around every twentieth person was non-Japanese. And at least one of the salesman at the ‘yatai’ stalls was a foreigner with a Kansai accent, doing a brisk business with stretch ice-cream.

Because of the increased numbers of tourists, the authorities have gone out of their way to make the festival more appealing by adding features such as small theatre shows and maiko serving beer in front of Yasaka Shrine. For non-Japanese there was also a very useful free leaflet being handed out in English with one of the best festival explanations I’ve seen.

A colourful map gives an overview of the 33 floats and their locations (each downtown neighbourhood maintains and exhibits its own float). There are also detailed explanations of aspects of the festival, such as the special music called Gion Bayashi. This is played with gong, drum and flute. Musicians begin practising when young, mastering all three instruments, and the power of their playing is said to be an important element of the festival.

Another item covered is the ‘chimaki’ protective amulets attached to the front of houses to ward off pestilence during the year. The origin is said to date from when the deity Susanoo lodged overnight at the home of Somin Shorai. Though his family were poor, they gave Susanoo warm hospitality, and in return the deity promised their descendants protection from disease, offering them a bundle of cogon grass to wear around the waist. As a result, cogon grass is used today for the protective ‘chimaki’.

Overview of the 10 floats, with descriptions, that are involved in the Ato-Matsuri (on July 24)

The leaflet also notes that folding screens and scrolls are on display in some of the old houses (though I’m told the number of such displays is greatly reduced as a result of people ‘misbehaving’ by touching exhibits, crossing lines, or shouting in drunken manner etc). Each float also offers for sale  its own good luck charm, dedicated to the deity of the float and with its own particular tradition.

Finally, the leaflet gives a detailed description of the two types of floats. One is the Yama, with 14 to 24 carriers, which has a sacred pine tree, a display and carrying poles. The other is the Hoko, which weights 7 to 9 tons and has a long spire like pole stretching up 25 meters from the ground. These floats have large wooden wheels and are pulled by 30-50 people, directed by two men standing on the float itself. Musicians sit on the second floor, and above them are four roof riders who make sure the float steers clear of power lines and other obstacles. Decorative curtains and tapestries hang over the sides.

The distinctive identity and history of each float is neatly given in pages that separate the floats into two parts: firstly, the 23 floats involved today in the Saki-Matsuri (Before Parade on July 17th). Secondly, the ten floats involved in the Ato-Matsuri (After Parade on July 24th).

Four key moments are identified as follows: 1) the festoon cutting ceremony, involving a chigo (sacred child) cutting a straw rope to symbolically represent entering into the spirit world; 2) Lot Check, when each float has to ritually present the document certifying its place in the parade; 3) Float Turning, when bamboo or poles are inserted beneath the fixed wooden wheels of the hoko floats in order to enable them to turn; 4) Disassembly, when after the parade the floats return home and are disassembled to ensure the spirits of disease that have accumulated are not released.

Full marks and gratitude to the Gion Matsuri Yoiyama Council who produced this useful free guide to the annual display of people’s power in the old imperial capital!

The order of floats in the parade is chosen by lottery, and one of the ritual moments in the proceedings is the ‘Lot Check’ when a representative has to show the official document to the authorities.


One of the Chigo (sacred child) that symbolise purity and play an important role in the festival

All about the Gion Festival

Tonight’s the night!  The evening before the big parade, known as Yoiyama, is happening in downtown Kyoto tonight when people throng around the massive festival floats, with their musicians and displays. It’s a great communal festivity, marking the highpoint of the month-long rituals that make up Gion Matsuri, and it’s one of Green Shinto’s favourites.

Previous reports have featured an illustrated overview (see here); history and the floats (see here); a focus on the eve of the parade (see here); the actual July 17th parade (see here); a list of the month long activities (see here); a talk about the festival by Catherine Pawsarat (see here); the Hindu background of the deity, Gozu Tenno (see here); a piece on phallicism in the festival (see here); the Western input in terms of tapestries (see here); for the removal of the spirit bodies into the mikoshi (see here); the Kanko sai, when mikoshi return on July 24 (see here); reinstalled ‘Ato Matsuri’ (later parade on July 24) with its own Yoiyama (evening before) (see here).

The dragon’s head sits proudly aboard the recently reintroduced Ofune float. As deities of water, the dragon is well placed to offer protection to the Gion Festival’s final float in the procession.

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