Gion Matsuri

One of our last official acts was to attend an interesting morning lecture and video presentation about what we were about to witness firsthand: the GIon Matsuri. This festival—originally started as an appeasement to the gods to end a plague—has been held every year since the 800’s! Well, except for a brief couple of years during World War 2 and a few years when one of the emperors prohibited it.

Essentially, these huge, wooden structures on wheels are built and covered with centuries-old tapestries from around the world and pulled through the streets by hundreds of men. At the top, bands play drums, chimes and flutes and in the front, two or more men with fans direct the movements. Since the axles are fixed, turning them at the intersections is an amazing spectacle—something you’ll have to wait and see in my video whenever I get it edited and posted. They essentially slide the front wheels sideways on wetted strips of bamboo—hard to explain and fascinating to watch. Oh and one more thing: these multi-story floats are made of wood, temporary and lashed together with ropes. It’s truly amazing…

Two years ago, the festival was held in pouring rain, so I went elsewhere instead. This year, it was an absolutely gorgeous, clear day (as you can see from my photos). Of course, that also means it was hotter than hades, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Kishi-sensei and Ikushima-sensei went with us, and we had cold Soba noodles for lunch. Next door was a little mom-and-pop used clothing store where I managed to get a used Obi sash for my Yukata for an incredible price—thank you, Oji-sama! I went off on my own and got some great photos, including of the dismantling process. I drifted back to Kyoto Station where—EUREKA!—a spot had opened up on the overnight train to Hokkaido! So I leave Sunday morning, go first to Osaka and then off to Sapporo (where it should hopefully be cooler).

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