This photo, taken by one of my friends, shows a lion putting its jaws over my head to give me good luck during the Kyoto Gion Festival’s Hanagasa Procession (Hanagasa Junko) on 7/24/2016. The shishimai or the Japanese version of the “lion dance” is a folk performance that appears in a lot of festivals in Japan, when festival goers put their heads inside the lion’s jaw for good luck. The woman in green next to the lion was using hand gestures to encourage the people standing near me to put their heads inside, when I stuck my head out. (To read more in English)
While much press and social media have focused on the Gion Festival’s yama and hoko activities, the Yasaka Shrine also works with other civic groups in the festival. One of their events is the Hanagasa Junko, or translated the “Umbrella Procession,” occurring every year on July 24th. There are four “umbrella-shaped” floats, which simulate the original shape that the yama and hoko floats had in the early years of the festival.
This procession has a relatively recent history, beginning in 1966 when the two yama and hoko processions on 7/17 and 7/24 combined into one event on 7/17. The Hanagasa procession substituted for the morning event that led the way for the evening mikoshi (portable Shinto shrines) event on 7/24 when the portable shrines were returned back to Yasaka Shrine after being taken out to purify the city of Kyoto on 7/17. In 2014, when the procession reverted to two occasions on 7/17 and 7/24, the Hanagasa Procession occurred at the same time as the second yama and hoko float procession on the morning of 7/24. Their routes overlapped on parts of Shijo and Kawaramachi streets but at different times.
Yasaka Shrine representatives (both male and female association members), traditional performance groups such as taiko, the sagi-mai (“White Heron dance”), and the shishimai (lion dance) shown in the photo above, and Kyoto’s commercial associations take part in the procession. The children’s mikoshi – a smaller version of the portable shrines carried by both girls and boys (see photo example )- is also a big part of this procession.
I hope you will help me answer the following two questions:
1) What kind of organizations coordinate the Hanagasa Procession? How do they “practice” for the procession?
2) How is the Japanese shishimai different from the Chinese version?
*Also see this ENJOY KYOTO news magazine article for more information about the Gion Festival’s mikoshi events; scroll down for more about the Gion Festival’s history and changes in 1966.