Gion Parade (Eve)

Float lanterns light up the Kyoto night in a happy throng, catching the attention of the milling crowds

The month long Gion Festival is reaching a climax tonight and tomorrow morning.  The evening of the 16th is the so-called Yoiyama, the night before the big parade when floats are dressed in all their finery with last minute entertainment as people flock around them to get as close as they can.  For a few blissful hours the roads are closed to traffic and the streets are packed with happy revellers….

Of Kyoto’s Big Three Festivals, Gion is truly the people’s festival!  Aoi Matsuri centres around imperial messengers.  Jidai Matsuri was an ideological construct for the Meiji government.  But once a year over a million people dress up and reclaim the streets of Kyoto in carnival atmosphere.  Sticky, humid and crowded it may be – but in the display of convivial celebration, the city’s residents show how good spirits can overcome the demons that once spread misfortune and the plague.  And tomorrow morning at 9.00 the grand parade kicks off to welcome the mikoshi from Yasaka Jinja.  (For the removal of the spirit-body (goshintai) into the mikoshi, see here. For a report of last year’s event, see here; for the parade itself, see here.)

Musicians high up in the naginata float play for the assembled crowd

As always in Japan, traditional craftsmanship is both awesome and aesthetic (no nails are used at all).


The sales staff at one of the stalls, dressed for the evening’s work


Suzuka Gongen, a syncretic goddess whom legend says expelled a demon on the Tokaido pathway between Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo). The deity, also known as Seoritsu-him no kami, has her own float and is protectress of the Suzuka checkpoint near Ise.


Each float has treasures and tapestries to display, some with foreign provenance and intriguing histories


Folk heroes Benkei and Yoshitsune are displayed on the Hashi-benkei float


Some of the displays are exquisitie


Some of the displays are startling!


And the great thing about this premier people’s festival is that you can wander around and see all this for free

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