Kyoto Gion Festival 京都祇園祭: Yama-hoko Construction 山鉾建て (Photo Story 1)

After four months doing fieldwork in a place that I will later blog about, I am currently in Kyoto for fieldwork on the Gion Festival.


The Gion Festival, or Gion Matsuri in Japanese, is known as one of Japan’s “three great festivals” and its event runs for a month every year in July. It dates back to 869 as a festival to combat plague epidemics that frequently occurs in a city located in a valley that seals in humidity and heat during the summer, when a shrine was carried from Yasaka Shrine to Shinsenen to pray to the gods in order to get the plague to subside. The festival also was also held in an effort to stabilize political unrest that resulted from these epidemics.


The Kyoto merchant neighborhood associations, known as yama-hoko chō, became involved in the Gion Festival after Kyoto was mostly destroyed in the Onin Civil War at the end of the 15th century and was rebuilt into its current grid formation. Much of the festival floats (called yama and hoko, click here for a short explanation ) seen today in downtown Kyoto dates from then.


This website gives extensive information about the Kyoto Gion Festival in English. The Gion Matsuri Yama-Hoko Preservation Society webpage (mostly Japanese, with some English and other languages) and the Kyoto City Tourism Association webpage (Japanese) also gives a good overview of the festival.


This month, I will do occasional short photo stories of what I have seen at the Gion Festival. Below is the first one:


Construction craftsmen use a pulley to flip the Kikusui Hoko over, as spectators look on.
Construction craftsmen use a pulley to flip the Kikusui Hoko over, as spectators look on /Photo by author

I took this photo today, which marks the second day of the hoko-type float construction and the first day of the yama-type float construction. The Kikusui-hoko , located here, was initially constructed on its side. The top part (that looks like a stick) is attached to the base, before craftsman use a pulley to flip it over to the correct orientation. This event draws a lot of spectators, including a Japanese city tour group next to me, who took photos on their cameras and cell phones. A Kikusui-hoko neighborhood association member, standing on a ladder, was also taking photos of the event.





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