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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Individual Shrine Observances
Gion matsuri
A festival held between July 1 and July 29 at the Yasaka Jinja in Higashiyama Ward, Kyōto City, Kyōto Prefecture. In ancient times it was called the Gionryō'e ("Gion Spirit Assembly"). The origin of the festival is supposedly the spirit assembly sponsored by Emperor Seiwa to drive out an epidemic in the eleventh year of the Jōgan era (869) in the Heian Period. With harae, dashi ("mountain" floats), halberd floats (hoko, hokodashi), and furyūodori (dances performed by elegantly costumed dancers) at its center, this Gion festival became the source which formed the basic structure of Japan's summer shrine festivals. All around Japan today, Gion and Tennō festivals, in which participants carry shin'yo (sacred palanquins) down to the seashore or to the riverbank, or in which they pull around dashi and halberd floats, are held in June and the middle of July. The majority of these seem to have been influenced by Kyōto's Gion festival. This festival begins on July 1 with the kitsubuiri (meeting to determine and arrange the rites and rituals for the festival) and concludes on July 29 with a rite of reporting to the kami (hōkokusai). During this time many diverse rites and events are held. On July 2 people decide the order of the floats by drawing lots (mikuji). On July 9, the floats are set up. In the shin'yo washing on July 10, shinshoku (priests) carry the shin'yo to the Shijō Bridge where they wash and purify them by pouring water from the Kamo River on them using sacred sakaki branches. A procession of Gion geisha with nerimono (another kind of float) and chōchin lanterns welcomes the shin'yo. The chigoshasan is a rite on July 11 in which young boys who are to ride in the halberd floats that year wear tall court headdresses and suikan robes and go by horseback to worship at the shrine where they receive the fifth court rank. On the thirteenth, there is the setting up of the dashi, while on the fourteenth, the "pulling of the dashi," in which floats are drawn around the neighborhood, begins. Performing arts are presented on July 15. In the yoiyama, a small festival held the night before the main event (July 16), the "mountain" and "halberd" floats are decorated with chōchin lanterns, human figures and other ornaments for all to see. The dashi and hokodashi processional on July 17 is the liveliest. A total of twenty-nine floats (twenty-two mountain floats and seven halberd floats) make a tour around the neighborhood. In various locations on the same day there are performances of sagimai (heron dance, also called sagiodori) and dengaku dances. A shinkō (sacred procession) centered on three shin'yo leaves the main shrine (honsha) in the evening. On July 24 there is a recessional rite in which the palanquins return to the shrine from the otabisho (temporary site of enshrinement). On July 28, the palanquins are washed again at Shijō Bridge. This is followed on July 29 with a ritual offering of a concluding report to the kami.
       Although there are numerous Gion festivals throughout Japan the following is an extremely limited listing: the Gion Yamagasa (mountain rush or bamboo hat) on July 1 to 14 at Kushida Shrine in Hakata Ward, Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture; the Gion Festival on July 10 through 12 at Yasaka Shrine in Sawara City, Chiba Prefecture; the Ogura Taiko (Drum) Gion Festival on July 10 through 12 at Yasaka Shrine in the Ogura Kita Ward, Kita Kyūshū City, Fukuoka Prefecture; the Gion Festival on July 14 through 16 at Yakumo Shrine, among others, in Matsuzaka City, Mie Prefecture; the Gion Festival Hōran'enya on July 14 through 15 at Yamabe Jinja Shrine in Gōtsu City, Shimane Prefecture; the Tajima Gion Festival on July 19 through 21 at Tadeuga and Kumano Shrines in Tajima Town, Minami Aizu County, Fukushima Prefecture; the Daija (Great Serpent) Gion Festival on July 13 and 14 at Yatsurugi Shrine in Ōmuta City, Fukuoka Prefecture, among others.

— Mogi Sakae
Footage of the Kumagaya Uchiwa Matsuri. This festival is known as "the largest Gion Matsuri in the Kanto region."

Saitama Prefecture, 2007

©Ōsawa Kōji

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