Sunday, January 20, 2013

Gion Matsuri Yamaboko Junko in Kyoto ♥ 祇園祭の山鉾巡行

Held annually in July, the Gion Matsuri (祇園祭) is a festival of Kyoto's Yasaka Jinja, and is one of the most famous festivals in Japan. It is well-known for its grandeur and long history, originating in 869.

Visually captivating and magnificent, the float procession, Yamaboko Junko (山鉾巡行) is indubitably the highlight of the festival. ♥ It is held on the 17th of July every year, starting at about 9am at Shijo-Kawaramachi. Yamaboko refers to the two types of floats used in the procession: the 23 smaller Yama (山) and the 9 taller Hoko (鉾).

On the day of the Yamaboko Junko, the usually busy streets are closed to traffic to make way for the spectacular procession of floats. The best place to get a good view is at an intersection, because turning the heavy floats 90-degrees, is itself a spectacular feat to watch.  As the floats make their way down the street, there are various performances to watch as well.

Altogether, there are a total of 32 magnificent floats. Here are 25, in the order that they appeared in.
Though it was a hot day, the blue sky and bountiful light made the colors of the floats shine!

Lots of people took part in the procession, even little children, who were adorable! 
Largest picture: Atop the first float of the procession, the Naginata Hoko (長刀鉾), is the chigo (稚児), the sacred child, a local boy who is selected to be a divine messenger. In the other floats, the child-like figures atop the floats are dolls.

But Kyoto was like an oven that day, baking hot. No one was spared the heat!

Going up to 25-meters high and weighing up to a few tons, the floats are entirely assembled by hand, and no nails or glue is used to hold the parts together. Only rope. To move them along the streets, they are pulled by dozens of men. 

At the front of each Hoko are usually two men holding fans. They are there to pilot and coordinate the movement of the pulling, as the Hoko are heavier than the Yama, requiring about 30-40 men to pull each one.

This was one of my favorite floats: the Kuronushi Yama (黒主山).
I think the (fake) cherry blossoms got my vote!

Atop many of the floats were men playing flutes. 
They sat there and played their songs when the floats came to a halt.

The floats are elaborately adorned with many intricate tapestries and decorations.

Pulling the floats requires much strength and coordination. 
Foreigners can take part in the procession as well!

A doll atop one of the Hoko.

More colorful and spectacular floats passing by.

One of the more visually attractive floats, and another of my favorites: the Fune Hoko (船鉾). 
Fune (船) means boat!

Before each of the floats come, a person bearing a flag with the name of the float walks in front of it.

On the 3 nights before the procession, the streets are also closed in the evening and street stalls are set up selling food and games. You can also use the time to check out the floats, which are on display. There men on the floats playing their flutes, and also children in yukata singing. For a small fee, you can even enter the floats. However some of the floats are restricted to men-only.

I stayed throughout the entire 4-hour procession because I was waiting for the final float, the Oo-fune Hoko (大船鉾), which is supposed to be a large boat...but it was missing?! All that came out was this...the words say Oo-fune Hoko, but there was no float. How odd.

My Olympus Pen died a while after the procession started because I forgot to charge it, but luckily I also brought my older Samsung point-and-shoot, which I think did a pretty decent job. I would have been so devastated if both my cameras were dead! 

I was standing for the entire 4 hours with no shade, as the sun was shining directly at me. Look at the tan I got from just watching the float procession! (´Д`) I think I got kind of dehydrated after as I started to feel woozy after walking off! So I immediately headed to Lawsons and bought like 3 bottles of water which I gulped down. The off to Arashiyama it was! ♥


  1. I want to visite Japan so bad!

    It will mean a lot if you have time to check our blog and maybe follow us if you like it ?

    Hope to see you soon on it !


    Emily from Pretty Tiny Things

  2. Ooh, looks like so much fun!! >w<
    Ah! I really wish to go to Japan and experience festivals, and wear yukata, or kimono! >w<
    Thank you for sharing! ^^

  3. The floats look so amazing! =]
    Really gotta give props to the men pulling them, looks like a lotta hard work!
    I'd really love to visit Kyoto one day...

  4. This looks absolutely amazing! Hope you had a fab time!
    Love Samantha xxx

  5. Wow it looks like so much fun! I want to see one one day

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