Kyoto Gion Festival: Hikizome (Video Story 2)

Today’s Kyoto Gion Festival post features a video showing the Naginata hoko float’s “test run, ” an event known in Japanese as hikizome. I’ve already posted a similar video on social media earlier in the day, but I will explain it in more detail here.

The hoko float construction is always completed within three days (7/10 – 7/12). The yama float construction runs from 7/11 to 7/13.

Today (July 12th) is used for the hoko float’s hikizome, in order to check that the heavy float will move smoothly on the streets for the 7/17 procession (the first out of two float processions). During the construction period, each neighborhood association hast posted announcements about major events involving its float: the day and time of hikizome, when chimaki (good luck objects) will go on sale, and when the float will be open for general public visits.

As you can see in the video, the float does not just “roll” by itself on wheels. There are neighborhood association members who help to move and brake the wheels,  by putting wooden sticks under them. Neighborhood association members and their families – and even women and children who do not pull the float on the actual procession day -pulled the float forwards with long ropes today. Also, the float must support the Gion bayashi , the 50 or so musicians playing the festival music on top of the float.

When I took this video, the Naginata hoko float had already completed the first leg forward on Shijō street and was getting ready to move back in the opposite direction to its original position in front of the Naginata hoko neighborhood association building. The people at the wheels were detaching the ropes used to pull the float from the wooden beams on one side and re-attaching them on the other side. Throughout all of this, the Gion bayashi continued playing the music without pause.

Like hoko construction, the hikizome event brought large crowds of spectators, including Kyoto residents who attend the festival every year, domestic visitors, and overseas visitors. Many of them were using camera and video recording devices from smartphones to digital cameras to SLR cameras on tripods in order to capture to event. Part of the Kyoto Gion Festival experience involves maneuvering the crowd to find the “perfect” spot(s) and to sense the correct timing to take photos and videos.

During the July Gion Festival season, police are often sent out to the streets to conduct traffic. The end of the video shows them clearing the roads for utility vehicles to pass, so that the workers could readjust the traffic lights that they had moved for the Naginata-hoko to pass.


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