Kyoto Gion Festival: Gion Bayashi (and a short musical analysis)


In this post, I will introduce the Gion bayashi/hayashi (I will use the two words interchangeably). The Gion bayashi is the music group that plays on the top level of each hoko float participating in the Kyoto Gion Festival, when the hoko is doing its test-run (hikizome event), when it is opened for public visits after construction, and during the processions on 7/17 and 7/24. Although the music groups all consist of gong, flute, and taiko (2) players, each hoko‘s Gion bayashi plays a different repertoire of music.

This video of the Tsuki  (“Moon”) Hoko float’s hayashi was taken yesterday evening (7/13), after hoko construction and the hikizome events were completed. On this day, the public began to purchase chimaki (good luck charms) from particular hoko and to visit their friends, family, and acquaintances who are conducting hoko festival duties. Some hoko were open to the public from yesterday, while others, like the Tsuki Hoko, were only open to invited guests yesterday but to the public from today. Many of the Gion bayashi were already performing near the hoko, but some would not begin performing until today, the official beginning of the period known as yoiyama.  I took this video of the Tsuki Hoko’s hayashi, because unlike many of the hoko such as the Naginata-hoko, the members were performing on the ground level.

I was standing behind the row of gong players on one side, the two taiko players were behind the lanterns in the middle of the U-shaped fence, and the flute players were on the other side. The gong’s fast-paced and high-pitched 1-2-3 rhythm ringing, the flute’s clipped sound, the brisk taiko beats, and the fast sore  chants drove the music along, making one’s heart beat when standing in close proximity. (More below)



English (continued): At first hearing, perhaps all Gion bayashi may sound the same. I was told, though, that it is not possible to change Gion bayashi membership, because one would have to learn all the songs (a bit over 30) from the beginning and it would take years to progress from the first instrument everyone learns (the gong) to the flute or the taiko. Keeping the Tsuki Hoko’s hayashi sound in mind, listen to the contrasting drawn-out chants, the lingering “deeper” notes of the flutes and gongs, and the deliberate taiko beats in the video below of the Naginata-hoko’s hayashi.

日本語(続き): 初めて祇園囃子を聞くとき、同じように聞こえるかもしれません。でも、各鉾の音楽の題目が異なり、囃子を変えたらゼロから習い、何年もかかりますから、基本に祇園囃子の変更ができないというわけだという話を聞きました。月鉾の囃子の音を覚えながら、下で掲載した長刀鉾の囃子のビデオを聞いて、異なる長引いている言葉、ゆっくりと行われるより「深く」聞こえる笛とカネの音、また「ゆったりとした」太鼓の拍子を聞きましょう。


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