Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gion Matsuri

I don't know a lot about Gion Matsuri, but it has been going on for around 1200 years. in the mid 800s, there was a series of bad weather, plagues, fires, etc, and relief only came after an elaborate purification ritual at the Yasaka shrine near Gion. This is one of the biggest festivals in Japan. You can read more here.
They completely shut down a major portion of downtown to vehicles and its a giant pedestrian zone with food stalls, and the giant "floats" are on display for several days. The floats are rebuilt every year using traditional building techniques (no nails). The "small" floats weigh about one ton, and the larger ones weigh 12 tons! That number will seem more amazing later when you watch the video below.

Here are some pictures from Sunday evening, July 15:
on the train headed downtown

crossing the Kamogawa on Shijo

Shijo, a major downtown street, completely closed with only foot traffic

These lanterns were hanging everywhere

here is a long angle view of the lanterns

one of the floats. They were playing music. The people are about 15 feet in the air.

a hot and tired family

here we are smack in the middle of Shijo-Karasuma, a major intersection

N lost a tooth (the 2nd of the day) while eating frozen yogurt!

M was making goofy faces at passers-by, getting them to wave and smile


A few days later (July 17) is the big parade. These GIANT floats are pulled by teams of men and big thick long ropes. I had heard that watching the floats turn is the best part so I walked down to Kawabata-Oike. Fortunately, I had a big tree to stand under. It was sunny and HOT.
This is one of the larger floats. Rising up is one of the long spears (halberds) used in the purification ritual(s)


The floats make an amazing 3-step turn at each corner. The float stops about 20 or 30 feet before the turn and 4 or 5 people lay down bamboo strips in the street. They pull the float on top of the strips, wrap the rope around the axles, and then in a very synchronized maneuver, they haul on it, turning it about 30 degrees. They then repeat this whole process 3 times, over a period of about 6-7 minutes. The crowd erupts in cheers at each partial turn, and then, they load the bamboo strips back onto the float, and haul it away.

here is the float after making its last turn. you can see 2 long lines of people lining up to pull it.

here is a smaller float

I have a deep phobia of Praying Mantises. So this float really caught my eye. The mantis moved. Creepy.


video
<shudder>


This was the largest float I saw. I watched the parade for about 75 minutes and four large floats came, each with 3 or 4 smaller ones behind. Since there are more than 30 floats, I decided that I wanted to get out of the hot sun. It has been really hot and humid here.

This was the last big float I saw; it is a lot smaller than the others, and the lines of people pulling it are shorter.


video
This was the first float of the parade. You can see (barely) the long lines of people pulling this large float. The music is just haunting, so interesting. The float just sort of lumbers along. It is really incredible.


video
I managed to catch part of the 2nd of 3 turns.


video
This is the largest float I saw making its way to the intersection.


video
Here you can see a bit of the choreography before that big float makes its first of 3 turns.


video
This is a much smaller "big" float, you can see the lines of people pulling it (about half the length of the lines pulling the longer floats!)

All in all, it was an amazing experience to see this parade and the whole festival. 

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