Gion Festival


Gion Festival (Gion matsuri)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Late Summer, July
***** Category: Observance


Gion matsuri 祇園祭り (ぎおんまつり)
Gion Festival in Kyoto

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Gion (祇園)
is a district of Kyoto, Japan, originally developed in the Middle Ages, in front of Yasaka Shrine. The district was built to accommodate the needs of travelers and visitors to the shrine. It eventually evolved to become one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan.

The Gion Festival (祇園祭 )
takes place annually in Kyoto and is one of the most famous festivals in Japan. It spans the entire month of July and is crowned by a parade, the Yamaboko Junkō (山鉾巡行) on July 17.

Kyoto's downtown area is reserved for pedestrian traffic on the three nights leading up to the massive parade. These nights are known as yoiyama (宵山) on July 16th, yoiyoiyama (宵々山) on July 15th, and yoiyoiyoiyama (宵々々山) on July 14th. The streets are lined with night stalls selling food such as yakitori (barbecued chicken skewers), taiyaki, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, traditional Japanese sweets, and many other culinary delights. Many girls dressed in yukata (summer kimono) walk around the area, carrying with them traditional purses and paper fans.

During the yoiyama eves leading up to the parade, some private houses in the old kimono merchant district open their entryways to the public, exhibiting valuable family heirlooms, in a custom known as the Byōbu Matsuri, or Folding Screen Festival. This is a precious opportunity to visit and observe traditional Japanese residences of Kyoto.

by Iwase Matabei 岩佐又兵衛 (1578 - 1650)

This festival originated as part of a purification ritual (goryo-e) to appease the gods thought to cause fire, floods and earthquakes. In 869, the people were suffering from plague and pestilence which was attributed to the rampaging deity Gozu Tennō (牛頭天王).
Emperor Seiwa ordered that the people pray to the god of the Yasaka Shrine 八坂神社, Susanoo-no-mikoto. Sixty-six stylized and decorated halberds, one for each province in old Japan, were prepared and erected at Shinsen-en, a garden, along with the portable shrines (mikoshi) from Yasaka Shrine.

This practice was repeated wherever an outbreak occurred. In 970, it was decreed an annual event and has since seldom been broken. Over time the increasingly powerful and influential merchant class made the festival more elaborate and, by the Edo Period (1603-1868), used the parade to brandish their wealth.

In 1533, the Ashikaga shogunate halted all religious events, but the people protested, stating that they could do without the rituals, but not the procession. This marks the progression into the festival's current form. Smaller floats that were lost or damaged over the centuries have been restored, and the weavers of the Nishijin area offer new tapestries to replace destroyed ones. When not in use, the floats and regalia are kept in special storehouses throughout the central merchant district of Kyoto in the care of the local people.
© More in the WIKIPEDIA !


There are many kigo related to the Gion Festival

Most of the festival floats are kigo and come with their own interesting history.

Gion-e 祗園会 (ぎおんえ) Gion Ceremonies
Gion matsuri 祗園祭(ぎおんまつり)Gion Festival

ushi no gion 牛の祗園(うしのぎおん)"Gion of the Bull"

see below, Gozu Tenoo

Gion daiko 祗園太鼓(ぎおんだいこ)Gion drum
Gion yamagasa, Gion yamakasa 祗園山笠(ぎおんやまがさ)Gion festival floats

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Deity Susano-O
Gion goryoo-e 祗園御霊会(ぎおんごりょうえ)requiem for the repose of the souls of people who died from violence, disease and the pest.

shimo no matsuri 下の祭(しものまつり)
kami no matsrui 上の祭(かみのまつり)

Gion bayashi 祗園囃(ぎおんばやし)Gion festival musicians
nikai bayashi 二階囃(にかいばやし)festival musicians on the second floor (of a float)

mikoshi arai 神輿洗(みこしあらい)purification of the mikoshi
hokodate 鉾立(ほこだて)preparing the floats and kenboko
hokomachi 鉾町(ほこまち)ward with a kenboko helbard

. Kenboko 剣鉾 (けんぼこ)
and the Goryo Festival 御霊祭 Goryo Matsuri  

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yoiyama 宵山(よいやま)
night before the grand parade (17th day)
yoimiya moode 宵宮詣(よいみやもうで)
yoi kazari 宵飾り(よいかざり)decorations on the night before the parade
In the night of yoimiya the spirits of the deities are transported into the protable shrines on the floats.

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byoobu matsuri 屏風祭(びょうぶまつり)folding screen festival
The rich merchant homes display the folding screns which are usually hidden with the family treasures in the special storehouses.
. . . CLICK here for Photos !


yamaboko 山鉾(やまぼこ)Gion Festival floats
(yama and hoko)
The order of the floats is decided new for each year, using lucky lots.

LINK with phantastic photos of each float:
source : kyoto-k.sakura.ne.jp

hoko matsuri 鉾祭(ほこまつり)festival of the floats
hoko no chigo 鉾の稚児(ほこのちご)children on the floats
. naginata boko, naginataboko 長刀鉾(なぎなたぼこ)halberd float .

kakkiyo yama 郭巨山(かっきょやま)
hooshoo yama 保昌山(ほうしょうやま)
hakuga yama 伯牙山(はくがやま)
kangoku boko 函谷鉾(かんごくぼこ)
hakurakuten yama 白楽天山(はくらくてんやま)
torihoko 鶏鉾(とりほこ)
urade yama 占出山(うらでやま)
abura tenjin yama 油天神山(あぶらてんじんやま)
tokusa yama 木賊山(とくさやま)
kikusui boko 菊水鉾(きくすいぼこ)
tsuki hoko 月鉾(つきほこ)
moosoo yama 孟宗山(もうそうやま)Moso Yama
ashikari yama 芦刈山(あしかりやま)
hooka hoko 放下鉾(ほうかほこ)
iwado yama 岩戸山(いわとやま)
joomyoo yama 浄明山(じょうみょうやま)
funa hoko 船鉾(ふなほこ)
kita Kannon yama 北観音山(きたかんのんやま)(with a man)

minami Kannon yama 南観音山(みなみかんのんやま)(with a woman)

Hachiman yama 八幡山(はちまんやま)
kuronushi yama 黒主山(くろぬしやま)
koi yama 鯉山(こいやま)carp float
suzuka yama 鈴鹿山(すずかやま)

yamabushi yama 山伏山(やまぶしやま)
float of the mountain ascetics

arare Tenjin yama 霰天神山(あられてんじんやま)
for Tenjin-sama, Sugawara Michizane

hashi Benkei yama 橋弁慶山(はしべんけいやま)
for Musashibo Benkei and Yoshitsune
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

Taishi yama 太子山(たいしやま)
for Shotoku Taishi
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

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En no Gyooja yama 役行者山(えんのぎょうじゃやま)
float of En no Gyoja
An actor of the mountain ascetic En no Gyoja makes a purificatin fire and prays for the safety of the festival. He then takes part in the parade.
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

funa hoko 船鉾(ふなほこ) boat float
- Shared by Taisaku Nogi -
Joys of Japan, 2012

The Yamahoko parade on July 17 -
The 17th day of the seventh month
is the day that Noah's ark drifted to Ararat!

. The Hata Clan 秦氏 Hata Uji .
and the Korean and Christian connection !

Many yamahoko feature a special talisman for good luck, the
. chimaki 茅巻 Chimaki ritual rice cakes .
usually eaten on the Boy's Festival (now May 5).

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Each yamahoko has its own origin and talisman related it. You can buy these things at Yoiyama.

Name of Yama or HokoTalisman, Charm, Chimaki
Aburatenjin yamafor learning
Araretenjin yamafor thunder and fire
Urade yamafor easy delivery
Ennogyoujya yamafor epidemic and safe driving
Kakkyo yamafor mother's milk
Kikusui hokofor eternal youth, longevity, rush of business
Kuronushi yamafor ridding bad luck
Koi yamafor advancement in life
Tokusa yamafor ridding stray child
Jyoumyou yamafor victory
Suzuka yamafor thunder, easy delivery, property loss
Taishi yamafor knowledge, scapegoat
Naginata hokoridding bad luck
Hakurakuten yamafor learning, good luck
Hachiman yamafor crying at night
Fune hokofor easy delivery, abdominal bandage
Houshou yamafor love, marriage tie
Houka hokofor ridding bad luck
Mousou yamafor filial devotion to parents
source : kyoto.mirahouse.jp


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The miniatures are about 20 to 40 cm high. The smallest souvenir-type items are just 10 cm high.
They are made from wood and cardboard. The figures inside are made of clay.

. Kyoto Folk Art - 京都(府) .


medama soodatsu 目玉争奪 fighting of the floats

mugon moode
無言詣(むごんもうで)"silent shrine visit"
Maiko pray at the otabisho places, but may not talk during their walk to and from the place.
This takes place from the 17th to the 24th day.

. Mugon Mode on October 20 .


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tsurumeso 弦召(つるめそ/ 弦売僧 / 弦女曽)
lit. "please buy bow-strings"

festival on day 24

This name refers to a group of lowly, untouchables in the old society (inu jinin 犬神人). Saint Shinran spread his teaching among them, they became a group of followers of the Gion Shrine 祇園社. They took care of dirty work during the festival, handling burials and cremation grounds. They were also called tsurusashi 弦差(つるさし) or tsurumese.

The painting from the Taisho period shows the Tsurumeso in a procession, dressed in armour of the Heian period. They were defeated warriours and began making arrows and bowstrings for a living and had to stay in the ward Yumiyacho 弓矢町 (bow and arrow ward). This procession had been abolished in later years, so we now only have this painting.
source : gyojibunka


Heavenly King with an Ox-Head,
Ox-Headed Deva King
gozu tenoo, gozu tenno 牛頭天王
The Japanese god of plague

CLICK for more photos. quote from dragonbeya.exblog

With the fusion of Shinto and Buddhism, Susa-no-O was identified with Gozu Tenno ("Bull-headed King of Heaven").

Gozu 牛頭 Deities with Ox-Heads

. Gozu Tennō Densetsu 牛頭天王 伝説 Legends about Gozu Tenno .

. Gion Festival . English Reference


Setsubun festival at Yasaka Shrine
Each Kyoto shrine has its own attraction for the Setsubun ritual. Some feature special demon costumes. Some invite celebrities. Some prepare extensive gifts and make sure that everyone gets beans. Yasaka Jinja offers dances by maiko (apprentice geisha) for the enjoyment of the gods.

Shared by Dougill John - green shinto
Joys of Japan, February 2012


There are Gion festivals celebrated in other parts of Japan, for example in Hakata (kigo see below) or in Yamanashi

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山梨 祇園祭り

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

Gozu Tennoo fuda 牛頭天王札 amulet for Gozu Tenno

. Nezu Jinja 根津神社 Nezu Shrine .

Namu Gozu Tenno 南無牛頭天王

牛頭天王社 at the temple 札林寺, Chiba


Gion-e ni uka suru shoojo magire-yuku

at the Gion festival
this young girl grows up
as it walks along

Tsugawa Eriko 津川絵理子

uka refers to a change of an insect from a chrysalis to a butterfly, cicada or other.

Related words

Hamo has two food seasons,
one is in summer, just after the rainy season is over. It is then eaten for the Gion Festival in Kyoto or the Tenjin Festival in Osaka (matsuri hamo).
The Gion Festival is sometimes even referred to as
"Hamo Festival".

Pike conger eel (hamo)


Hakata no Gion matsuri
博多の祗園祭 (はかたのぎおんまつり)
Hakata Gion Festival
Hakata matsuri 博多祭(はかたまつり) Hakata festival

..... yamagasa 山笠(やまがさ)Yamakasa floats
oi yamagasa 追山笠(おいやまがさ)race of the floats
.... oiyama 追山(おいやま)

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The Hakata Gion Yamagasa festival is a religious ritual of Hakata's grand tutelary shrine, Kushida Shrine. It is concentrated on "Decoration Floats", Kazari Yamagasa, which are covered with beautiful Hakata dolls and set up in various places around the town.
As opposed to the elegant and feminine Kazari Yamagasa, the masculine "Kaki Yamagasa" is carried around the city from the 10th. The climax of the festival is the Oiyama race that starts from early morning on the 15th.

. WKD : Naked Festivals .

nyukoo no kiteki no hibiku kazari yama

the incoming boat
blasts its horn carrying
the Yamagasa float

Nagasaki Toosei 長崎島星 Nagasaki Tosei

. Yamakasa ningyoo 山笠人形 Yamakasa festival float dolls .
Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival


. Gozu Ten-O at Shrine Hiromine Jinja 広峰神社   

. Somin Shoorai Fu 蘇民将来符 Somin Shorai amulet .
and Gozu Tenno 牛頭天王

. Sannoo matsuri 山王祭 (さんのうまつり) Sanno Festival .
Hiyoshi matsuri 日吉祭(ひよしまつり) Hiyoshi shrine festival
sarumatsuri 申祭(さるまつり)monkey festival

. Gobelin tapestry, dragons and the Gion floats .

. Kesoobumi uri 懸想文売 vendor of love letters .
at shrine Suga Jinja 須賀神社

. Go-Oo Hooin 牛王宝印
sacred seal of the ox treasure .

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facebook said...

Yamahoko Junko (山鉾巡行, float parade) of Gion Matsuri, Shijo Karasuma to Karasuma Oike. July 17, 2011.

Photo Collection by Taisaku Nogi, Facebook


Gabi Greve said...

Yasaka Jinja Shrine, Kyoto

In the compound is also the shrine Utsukushi Gozen Sha 美御前社
with three beautiful female deities:

Ichikishima Hime no Mikoto 杵島比売命
Tagiri Hime no Mikoto 多岐理比売命
Tagitsu Hime no Mikoto 多岐津比売命

amulets for beauty

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa and the Gion Festival

yoru-yoru wa hon no miyako zo kado suzumi

night after night
people cool off outside --
it is truly the capital

Tr. Chris Drake

This hokku is from the sixth month (July) of 1813, about five months after Issa finally reached an agreement with his brother and returned to live in his half of his father's house in his hometown.

It is also the last hokku in a series of four (or perhaps five) in Issa's diary about the Gion Festival in faraway Kyoto, a festival that is taking place as he writes his hokku . . .

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Yasaka Jinja and Tanuki racoons

Gabi Greve said...

hoko yado ni otoko bakari ga ureshisoo

inn with a festival float
only men look

Nishimura Kazuko 西村和子

(tr. Fay Aoyagi)

Gabi Greve said...

The Kappa Water Goblin connection
祇園さま Gionsama, Gion Sama, Gion-Sama - The Gion Deity
Gion Kappa 祇園かっぱ
The messenger of the deity Inari is the fox, but the messenger of the deity Gion sama is the Kappa.
The deity is Susanoo no Mikoto 須佐之男命.
Therefore on the festival for Gionsama children must not play in the river to avoid accidents. Instead they have to throw cucumbers into the river from the bridge.
is an old saying.

Gionsama to kyuuri 祇園様と胡瓜 Gionsama and cucumbers
During the days of the Gion festival people are not allowed to eat cucumbers (a special food for the Kappa).
If they do, they will be pulled into the river by a Kappa.

and from 仙北郡峯吉川村
Gionsama to Kappa 祇園様と河童 Gionsama and the Kappa
On the festival day 六月十五日 people offer cucumbers on the family altar. They can only eat them after making the offering first. If they do not make the proper offering and eat the cucumber, they will be washed away in the river next time they come near it.

Gabi Greve said...

Kappa from Fukushima

「きゅうり天王さん」Kyuri Tennoo San, 「きゅうり天王さま」Kyuri Tenno Sama

Gabi Greve said...

Nakatsu Gion Festival 中津祇園祭り

Oita, Kyushu


Gabi Greve said...

Hita Gion Matsuri 日田祇園祭り Hita Gion Festival
Oita, Kyushu
日田祇園山鉾会館 Hita Gion Float Museum
MORE about Hita city specialities

Gabi Greve said...

Hachiooji 八王子 Hachioji and 高尾山 Mount Takaosan
牛頭天王 Gozu Tenno and his eight princes (八王子 hachi ooji)

Gabi Greve said...

Legend about 小倉八坂神社 Kokura Yasaka Jinja, Fukuoka
At the shrine 小倉八坂神社 Kokura Yasaka Jinja there is a legend about the beginning of the festival.
Once Lord 細川越中守忠興 Hosokawa Tadaoki (1563 - 1646) went hunting with hawks and took a rest at 不動山 Mount Fudoyama.
There was one small stone shrine and when Tadaoki placed his staff against it, it opened and one 霊鷹 sacred hawk flew out of it. The hawk kicked out both eyes of Tadaoki. He felt great pain, went home soon but would not heal at all. He realized it was the punishment of Gozu Tenno and had a shrine built in his honor. After a performance of a ritual Kagura, 神楽湯立, one eye begun to heal. He had 能興行 another ritual of Noh performed and the other eye begun to heal too.

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

suzushisa wa tennôsama no tsuki yo kana

cool air--
a moonlit night fit
for a god

Issa is referring to the guardian god of the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto.
David Lanoue

Gabi Greve said...

hayariyamai はやり病 / 流行病と伝説 Legends about epidemics
densenbyoo 伝染病 Densenbyo contagious diseases

. coronavirus spreading コロナウイルス .
- The situation in Japan -
COVID-19 // 2019-nCoV

Gabi Greve said...

Yasaka Jinja 八坂神社 Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto - Legends
Also called Gion Jinja 祇園神社 Gion Shrine.