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Posts From Abroad: Gion Matsuri Festival

on August 8, 2019 - 8:56am
The Chigo. Inside these Hoko Floats are also Bayashi Musicians who play traditional instruments. Photo by Leia Roach
The Roof Riders - The Roof Riders keep the float safe as it maneuvers its way down town. On the top of these Hoko floats are very tall sacred poles that have to be moved past buildings and power lines. Photo by Leia Roach
Los Alamos
The Gion Matsuri is Kyoto's biggest festival and one of the biggest festivals in Japan. The festival started in the 9th century when the portable shrines (mikoshi) were carried through town, and the plague currently spreading in the city disappeared.
The procession originally celebrated good health and good fortune. Today, the festival purifies and protects the city of Kyoto while music plays in the beautiful hand assembled (and carried) floats.
The first float carries the Chigo (other floats carry puppets), or the sacred child for the festival of the year. It is believed children carry the spirits of gods and a chosen boy acts as the god for the festival. This young boy is chosen from merchant families in Kyoto where he will go through purification ceremonies leading up to the event, during this time he is not allowed to touch the ground to remain pure.
The festival begins once he cuts a sacred rope (shimenawa), which will allow the floats to proceed to the spirit world. The first procession, Shikosai (July 17) the floats leave the Yasaka Shrine and collect the negative energy from the city, where they then will be left on the streets to be worshiped until the 24th. On the 24th the floats begin the second procession (Kankosai) to proceed back to the shrine - where a ceremony will take place to expel the negative energy of Kyoto.
Editor's Note: Leia Roach of Los Alamos is studying in Japan and sharing her experiences with the Los Alamos Daily Post and its readers.
The Ofune Hoko or Ship Float. Each float has a unique design in terms of shape and patterns, but this float in particular is shaped like a boat, which will sail downtown with the symbolism of a ship returning home from battle. Photo by Leia Roach
The cart pullers taking a break. Each float has many people pulling the float, while some are in charge of checking the wooden wheels run smoothly on the pavement. Occasional they will stop, where volunteers will give them tea for their hard work. Photo by Leia Roach