Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gion Matsuri Yoiyama 祇園祭 宵山

The evening of July 16 was Yoiyama, the night prior to the parade of yamaboko floats for Gion matsuri. This festival originated as part of a purification ritual to appease deities that were believed to be responsible for fires, floods and earthquakes - especially in the hot and wet summer months. In 869, Kyōto was suffering for a serious plague which was attributed to the rampaging deity Gozu Tennō. Emperor Seiwa ordered sixty-six stylized and decorated halberds, one for each province in old Japan, to be erected along with the portable shrines (mikoshi) from Yasaka shrine to appease the angry deity. In 970, it was decreed an annual event and has become more elaborate and eventually evolved into the Gion matsuri parade. Of the yamaboko floats, there are 9 of the larger Hoko (halberd) floats which represent the 66 spears used in the original purification ritual, these are the completed versions of what I visited just six day prior - truly impressive.

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