Tuesday, July 17, 2007

To the Gion Matsuri

Day before yesterday, I was a bad boy and fell ill. I was so ill that I could not go to work and had to call in sick. Then, as if touched by God, I was miraculously healed and felt so good I ventured into Kyoto for the Gion Festival.

The Gion festival is a Kyoto tradition that started 1100 years ago. The first Gion festival was held to combat the evil spirits that were spreading a epidemic-sized outbreak of syphilis throughout Kyoto and other parts of Japan. Pay no attention that the disease was spread only primarily to and by those that frequented the red light districts of the cities; no, it was evil spirits. Anywho, the festival includes a big parade in which massive floats are wheeled down the wide boulevards of Kyoto and it takes about three hours for them to roll down the whole route of the parade. The reason being is that the design of these floats has changed very little over the millennia since the festival's inception. We are talking about two and three story floats full of people playing flutes and drums, to artifacts meant to drive away the spirits. all of which is being pulled by twenty or so men with big thick ropes. When one of these rolling ghost busters wants to turn a corner, a whole crew goes into action laying slabs of bamboo out on the streets and then throwing water over them and then pulling the wagon across the bamboo to angle it in the new direction it is wanting to go. The whole process needs to be repeated two or three times in order for the float to be able to start off in its new direction. It is something to see.

After the parade, Terri had to go to work so I figured I would wonder around Kyoto for a while. I knew Andre was planning on coming to Kyoto that day and so I tried to give him a call. Creepily, just as I was calling him, he bumped into me on the street. Somehow in a city with 12 million people, Andre found me at the exact moment I was trying to find out where he was. Cue Twilight Zone music here. Anywho, we wandered around for a bit and ate at my beloved Wendy's. Shortly after that, we pared ways and I headed back to Fukuchiyama. It was a pretty fun day and I am glad that I saw the festival but I must say, I was expecting more from it, I am not sure why, but I just was. Either way, it was better than working.

Here are some pictures so you can get an idea of how big these floats were. I know some of the pictures are crooked and that is because I was having to hold my camera above my head to get a lot of the shots I did.

These are a couple of the bigger floats making their way down the street. You can get a good idea of their size by looking at this shot. Due to their height, there are probably only a handful of routes that these floats can take because of the power lines hanging everywhere.

Here is a closeup shot of one of the floats, you can see the band playing in the top section. The guys that sit on the roof used to signify something but now they are really only there to ensure the float doesn't hit a power line.

The smaller floats have it easy because they can simply be picked up and rotated to turn the corners. This is one of the big guys preparing to get turned. You can see the crew laying down the slats of bamboo and wetting them so that it gives the wheels something to slide on.

The guys in blue standing at the front of the float are basically in charge of steering the wagon. The Romans used fat guys with big drums to steer their boats, the Japanese use little guys with golden fans. When it comes time to turn the wagon, all of the drivers brace themselves and give a good yell and then wave their fans in the direction they want the guys to pull the ropes. This is a lot of fun to watch because almost every time the wagon gets jerked, one of the drivers almost falls off.

This guy obviously didn't get the memo that said to come dressed in modern traditional clothing.

The owner of this museum adheres to a strict business code to keep his shop running smoothly. "Open when I wake up and closed when I must go."


At 8:12 AM, Blogger Karie said...

Cool floats! I would have loved to see them! :) But I must say, my favourite is the little museum. Makes sense to me!


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