The Gion Festival is over 1100 years old and is the most spectacular of the ceremonies involving Yasaka Shrine. It originates from an epidemic in the year 869 when the chief priest of the Yasaka shrine led a procession of citizens throught the city trying to placate the gods and praying for an end to the plaque - the epidemic subsided, and the festival has been popular ever since. The festival begins July 2nd each year. On this day the portable shrines known as Mikoshi are hauled from their storage sheds and blessed. The most important Mikoshi is carried down to the Kamogawa river on July 10th and is purefied in a ceremony conducted by the chief priest. The Mikoshi is then carried back to Yasaka Shrine on the shoulders of the same young men who brought it to the river. Also on July 10th, three Mikoshi are carried from the shrine to City Hall and the festival starts. Carrying lanterns on very long poles and wearing traditional dress, the participants escort the Mikoshi in a parade and dance groups perform in front of the City Hall. The main part of the festival is from July 14th to 17th. For the first two days the festival carts are lined up in Shijo-dori west of the river - you can get up close and have a good look. There is music and fun every night. On the morning of the third day the parade begins and many carts, mikoshi and other floats parade along Kawaramachi-dori and Oike-dori streets. If you have the money, you can reserve seats in stands set up along Oike-dori (need to be quick though). All in all it is a colorful and exciting festival. There are two kinds of floats: yama and hoko. Yama are smaller floats (weight: 1.2 ton - 1.6 ton, height: about 6m) and carried by people on their shoulders. Hoko are giant floats (weight: 4.8 ton - 12 ton, height: about 25m) on large wooden wheels and pulled by people. There are 32 floats in the procession: 25 yama floats and 7 hoko floats. The most interesting thing to see during Yamahoko-junko is the turns of big floats called tsujimawashi take place in intersections. Men pulling the floats chant loudly, "yoi, yoi, yoi to sei" accompanied with traditional Japanese music played by people who are on the floats.
Shijo street at night
Information Reference: http://www.yamasa.org/japan/english/destinations/Kyoto/gion.html
Photo: Mero Dolakha