Saturday, July 16, 2005

Gion Matsuri - Yoiyoiyama

The Gion festival is one of the most important festivals in Japan. It was started in 869 (early Heian period) in the hope of securing divine intervention to halt a virulent epidemic (click here for previous post on the festival : Matsuri Magic Part 1). The plague ended and this event has became a popular festival since then. It starts on July 1st and continues for a month and the biggest events are yoiyama (the eve of festival) on the July 16th (today) and yamahoko-junko (parade of colorful floats through downtown Kyoto) on July 17th (tomorrow).
On the July 15th, it is called the yoiyoiyama (the day before the eve of the festival). On this day, I was able to sit inside a hoko (the funaboko), thanks to the free ticket provided by KAHF (Kyoto Association of Host Families).
There are two kinds of floats, one called yama of which there are 23 and the other called hoko consisting of 9, therefore the yama-boko floats. Yama are smaller floats (weight : 1.2 ton - 1.6 ton, height : about 6 m) and carried by people on their shoulders. Hoko are giant floats (weight : 4.8 ton - 12 ton, height : about 25 m) on large wooden wheels and pulled by people. Each float is owned by a wealthy merchant family which has passed this tradition down through the centuries. The float in the picture is built in the shape of an ancient ship.
The floats are decorated with family treasures. The tapestry used to decorate the funaboko is shown here.
According to japanese mythology, the ancient ship was used by the japanese empress, Jingu Kogo. A semi-legendary figure, she is said to have conquered three Korean kingdoms - Silla, Kokuryo and Pekeche, while she was pregnant with the future emperor. She didn't give birth to the future emperor until three years later after conquering Korea. Jingu is now still worshipped among Japanese women as the goddess of safe delivery. Because of her success in the war, she is also regarded as the Goddess of War. The main figures in this float are Empress Jingu Kogo and Ryujin - the japanese dragon god of the sea (one of the figures shown in the picture).

Ryujin, his palace at the bottom of the sea, controls the tidal flows with the magical Tide Jewels. Prior her invasion of Korea, Empress Jingu Kogo prayed to Ryujin and the empress was granted the magical Tide Jewels. The Japanese fleet then set sail towards Korea and the Korean fleet sailed out to confront them. When she saw the approaching fleet, the empress quickly threw the Low Tide Jewel into the sea so that the tide receded at once and the Korean fleet was beached. The Koreans all jumped out onto the mudflats but at that moment the empress threw the High Tide Jewel and a tidal wave drowned the men and carried the japanese fleet to victory.
Each large hoko floats carries musicians. The sound of traditional music (kon-chiki-chin) played on ancient instruments heightens the air of festivity.
There are many street vendors with games and japanese festival foods.
During the month of July, the ancient capital city of Kyoto seems to travel back in time.
Later in the evening, I attended (accompanied by Eddie, thanks) to my friend's band performance. His band name is bansoukou.
Before heading back home, we decided to take pictures of the clock tower of Kyoto University. Check out later for : yoiyama and yamahoko junko postings.


ODD said...

I love your blog. Each time that I come and look I learn and see things I havent known or seen before and I get a little bit of on idea of how things are in Japan. Great work.

Acrix said...

Nice photoz and story! Ryujin is somewat alike with the chinese's 海龙王 :p Will be going out soon for bon odori and hopefully got lotsa cute galz in yukata~

emotionalistic said...

Just curious....Can the words 'yoiyama' and 'yoiyoiyama' can be used to describe the day of any kind of festival or only meant for Gion festival??

Eddie said...

i will post the picture or u, Ton , pear and dominic

zbjernak said...

love those gigantic floats...
will they re-used it for the next year celebration?

we had Bon Odori last saturday in malaysia...

what is it acctually? did the japs celebrated it in huge scale like this?

Primrose said...

Hehe! United Colors of Benetton on a plain looking, japanese, authentic paper lantern. So traditional. :) Err, yoiyoimama sounds so, uhmm, American - Yo! Yo! Mama! *LOL* I like the Ryujin legend. I like anything "water". :)

Lrong said...

Natsukashii desu...

Patrick Leong said...

ODD : thank you for your comment. yea. i am enjoying my blog as well. i like your blog too.

acrix : i think there are alot of overlapping between the chinese and japanese legends. how was the obon festival ?

emotionalistic : yes. i checked with my host mum. she said the word yoiyama and yoiyoiyama is applicable to any festivals in japan.

eddie : ah, that picture ? yes of course. but not the one when they were trying the obi on me.

zbjernak : these floats are assembled annually, one week before the festival. the obon festival took place for several days when the souls of the dead are believed to return to their homes. check out my future post on the daimonji-yama. i will relate the posting to obon festival.

primrose : yes, i find it cool too. yo ! yo ! mama ! wah, you are very creative la.

lrong : when was the last time you saw the gion festival ? hey, fish fish and i might plan a trip to shikoku. where will you be heading for summer ? few plans in my head but might also go all the way down to kyushu.