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Kyoto Travel Journal: Gion Matsuri 2023

chigo festival boy in kyoto

Chigo, Yasaka Shrine

Influences and Beginnings

When I was in my early twenties, and without much experience of travel, I arrived with my husband in the ancient Nepalese kingdom of Kathmandu. The plane had crossed the flat lands of India and headed north, as if it was going to fly Indiana Jones-style straight into the mountains. But after a while a grassy plain appeared dotted with houses, and we landed, and when we were through the airport a land revealed itself that was medieval in nature, and unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Nepal palace of the living goddess

The palace of the Living Goddess (Kumari Ghar) in central Kathmandu

Kathmandu's living goddess

In the main Durbar Square we gave children rupees to look after our rented Chinese bikes, and we walked through to a palace courtyard to glimpse in an upper carved window the Living Goddess.

Nepal and the chariot of Patan

And as we cycled through chaotic Patan, once a neighbouring Himalayan mountain kingdom, we saw a huge wooden chariot, moveable with

enormous painted wooden wheels.

This was the chariot for the religious festival that honours the rain god, Rato Machindranath Jatra. I could imagine the towering structure knocking rooftiles off the houses, which was considered propitious.

Naginata boko Gion matsuri

Years later when I first visited Kyoto, I began to notice photos of the Gion Matsuri yamaboko floats. Their tall towering structures are pulled through the streets, and I couldn't help but instantly see a connection with that chariot of the ancient Himalayas, and I was fascinated.

When we read The Old Capital by Kawabata Yasunari for our JanuaryInJapan Bookclub, the deeply traditional and spiritual Gion Matsuri was at the heart of the story. Chieko's friend Shin'ichi had once been the 'festival boy', the chigo, and I discovered how before the festival he is carried everywhere as a vessel of purity through which the gods can communicate. The festival boy's feet should not touch the ground. This was exactly the same as the Nepali Living Goddess who had captivated and intrigued me all those years before.

Gion Matsuri musicians

When Atsuko san introduced beautiful Camellia Garden Teahouse to us via Instagram Live during summer 2022 when Japan was closed to tourists, the tokonoma was decorated with bamboo and tanzaku for Tanabata, and a miniature Gion Matsuri hoko float to celebrate the season.

Everything swirled in my imagination. I knew if I was fortunate enough to be able to return to Kyoto, it would be to discover more about this ancient festival that has survived to protect the old capital from plague and misfortune since my beloved Heian era.


Gion Matsuri

Gion Matsuri woodblock print

Centuries ago, when Kyoto as Heian-kyou first became the capital, festivals were among the highlights of the annual calendar. They were anticipated events for noblewomen, who spent their lives largely screened from the male gaze.

In Kyoto, many of these ancient festivals are still celebrated today. The Spring Aoi Matsuri is so old it features in a key scene in the 11th century novel called The Tale of Genji. The Autumn Jidai Matsuri is a more recent innovation, celebrating a roll-call of famous historical names down the ages, who parade through the streets of the city.

But perhaps the most well-known festival of all, and one of the oldest, is the big summer festival called the Gion Matsuri. This festival has been held in the old capital of Japan for over a thousand years.


Shinsen-en and the festival beginning

Shinsen en Kyoto

Shinsen-en (Sacred Spring Garden) is the astonishing remnant of the original Heian era palace garden of the first emperor of Kyoto, Emperor Kanmu.

For the Heian nobility it was a place of moon-viewing and boating parties.

Shinsen-en is just south of Nijo Castle in west Kyoto (much of the original Heian palace land is now part of the Nijo estate).

These days it is near to the Karasuma Oike subway line, and there is a clue to its origin in that name. O-ike means 'honourable pond' in Japanese, and so the name holds on to the significance of this place from centuries before.

In the year 863, there was a terrible plague in the city. Kyoto was regularly struck with an epidemic during the hot, rainy summers. There were big problems with floods and standing water, which caused problems for the city such as cholera and dysentery. Many people died, and the living were full of fear.

The Emperor called for a ritual to pray to the gods for an end to the suffering caused by the repeated epidemics. This took place at the pond in the pleasure garden at Shinsen-en, and it was here that the very beginnings of the festival that was conceived to appease the gods occurred. This festival became what we know today as the Gion Matsuri, and the Shinsen-en garden is at its heart.

When you read The Tale of Genji it is clear that the Heian aristocracy believed illnesses were caused by malevolent spirits. We have noted before in earlier blogs the practice of transferring bad spirits to pure white paper and floating it downstream as a way to send bad spirits away.

We have read of the trouble that unhappy spirits could cause the capital, raining down all sorts of natural disasters that in turn would hasten the living nobility to raise temples in the departed spirit's honour.

So, to learn that the Emperor called for a meeting of good spirits, of benevolent forces to his capital, aligns with what we have learned before. His intention was to convert the bad spirits into good spirits, and to honour them by erecting 66 spears (hoko) to represent the provinces of Japan, and then by carrying the deities of Yasaka Jinja in portable shrines (mikoshi) through the district to Shinsen-en.

old photo of Gion Matsuri Kyoto

Incidentally, these upright hoko evolved into the tall spear-like features that are so prominent on the floats - still known as hoko - today.

In the centuries before high-rise buildings, these tall spires would have been visible above the streets of Kyoto.

Shinsen-en is a fascinating place, which heralds the first of the Gion Matsuri's many connections to dragons.

The garden has been restored to resemble its original layout with the Hojuju-ike pond at its centre. This pond has a small island in the middle which is reached by a stone bridge and an arched vermillion bridge. There is a shrine on the island devoted to the Dragon King Zennyo, a rain-god dragon who appears in ancient Japanese mythology. Zennyo was believed to dwell in the waters of the pond.

Dragons, Bells and Drums

In his fascinating 1912 book Dragons of China and Japan, Doctor de Wisser writes:

It was the pond in the park that made the Buddhists choose it for their rain prayers. We read in the sandai jitsuroku, that on the 23rd day of the 6th month in 875AD, when all the performances of the Buddhist priests had only caused a slight insufficient rain to fall, an old man said, 'In the Sacred Spring Park there is a divine dragon. Formerly in times of heavy drought, the water of this pond was dried up; bells and drums were beaten, and when the dragon answered the request, it thundered and rained. This is sure to have a good result.'

Then the Emperor dispatched high officials to the park and had the water let out. Other officials, the court musicians, took place on a dragon-boat, and beat bells and drums, sang and danced, so that their voices made heaven shake.

The bells and flutes and drums that are such a hypnotic soundtrack to the Gion Matsuri appear to have their beginnings in this appeal to the dragon of Shinsen-en for rain.

The 13th century Kojidan records a Buddhist sutra recitation rainmaking competition at Shinsen-en between rival priests Kuukai and Shubin. Doctor de Wisser writes:

According to this work the Buddhist priest Shubin requested the Emperor to be allowed to practise the rain-prayer doctrine himself instead of Kuukai, as he was as much experienced in such matters as the latter. This was granted, and he succeeded in causing thunder and rain in Kyouto, but not beyond Higashiyama. Then Kuukai was ordered to make it rain over the whole country, which he promised to do within seven days. This limit, however, expired, and the sky was as cloudless as before. The saint, absorbed in meditation, arrived at the conclusion that Shubin, his rival, had caught all the dragons and shut them up in a water-pitcher by means of magical formulae (tantras).

Kuukai decides not to abandon his hope, saying:

'In this pond is a dragon, called Zennyo, who pities mankind. To him I have prayed, and now I see him rising out of the midst of the lake, gold-coloured, about eight sun long, seated on the head of another dragon, eight shaku in length.' This was reported to the Emperor, who soon sent a messenger with offerings for the Dragon King. And when the seven days of the new vow had expired, a heavy thunderstorm broke forth and a torrent of rain came down all over the country, so that the water of the pond overflowed the altar. As a reward for having saved the people from starvation, Kukai was elevated to the rank of shousouzu, bishop.

And so we see that for centuries dragons were connected to rain and water provision for citizens to drink and to grow rice and vegetables. This dragon Zennyo was prayed to when there was too little rain in the hot summers, and when there was too much, causing terrible epidemics. The bells and drums and singing and dancing that attracted the attention of the dragon echo so much of the Gion Matsuri celebrations today!

The Gion Festival: Exploring its Mysteries

At this point I would like to mention Catherine Pawasarat's fascinating blog about Dragons and Gion Matsuri. You can read it here!

Catherine is an expert on the festival, and she has written a guide to the Gion Matsuri that is absolutely indispensable called The Gion Festival: Exploring its Mysteries. This book clearly explains so many of the dazzling aspects of the matsuri, and details the series of events leading up to the procession. Catherine also supplies an interactive map of the locations of the yamaboko, which is so easy to follow!

Catherine Pawasarat's book the Gion Festival on a map of Kyoto


The Mound Shogunzuka

Then in Enryaku 3, the tenth month and second day (784), Emperor Kanmu moved his seat from Kasuga, in the imperial city of Nara, to Nagaoka in the province of Yamashiro. In the first month of the tenth year, he sent the grand counselor Fujiwara no Oguromaru, the consultant and left controller Ki no Kosami, the grand prelate Genkei, and others to inspect Uda in Kadono county, also in Yamashiro. The two officials reported as follows:

"The lay of the land, Your Majesty,

offers at your left the Blue Dragon,

the White Tiger at your right,

the Red Bird before you,

and behind you the Dark Warrior:

each of the four gods is in his place.

For your capital it is perfect."

Emperor Kanmu therefore conveyed his desire to the Kamo Deity present in Otagi county and on the twenty-first of the twelfth month of Enryaku 13 (794) moved from his Nagaoka capital to the new one. Since then, through three hundred and eighty years or more of stars and frosts, thirty-two sovereigns have reigned there and watched the seasons turn.

Yes, sovereigns had from the earliest times moved the capital hither and thither, but Emperor Kanmu, who knew that this site had no rival, could not let it go. He consulted ministers, senior nobles, men of talent in every line, to ensure that this new imperial seat should last forever.

To this end he had fashioned a man's clay likeness, eight feet tall, wearing armour and an iron helmet, bearing an iron bow and iron arrows, and on a peak of the eastern Hills he had this figure buried facing west.

Should there be in ages to come talk of moving the capital, the warrior was to discharge his duty and shield the established one.

So it is that whenever trouble

comes to pose a threat to the realm,

the barrow over this figure rumbles.

Known as the General's Barrow,

it is still there.

Royall Tyler translation, The Tale of the Heike

Above Higashiyama's Chion-in is the spot where these courtiers looked out across the city, and where the Dark Warrior is buried. The Dark Warrior watches over the capital from this position above Kyoto, and to the left the Blue Dragon Zennyo is believed to lie in a pool that extends underground towards Shinsen -en from beneath the Hall of Yasaka Shrine.

Kyoto is breathtaking, isn't it!


Dragons and Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka shrine kyoto

As we have seen in the passage above, the Heian nobles gave feng shui animal attributes to the compass directions of the city.

Mentioned in the east is the dwelling place of the Blue Dragon. This refers to the Shinto shrine that is at the heart of the Gion district: Yasaka shrine, with its recognisable gates and steps.

The Blue Dragon is related to the element of water, and as we have seen, the Gion Festival takes place every year during the rainy season. There is a deep connection with rain, and water, which is the environment of this dragon of the East. Dragons feature on a lot of the art throughout the festival: the tapestries surrounding the lead float the Naginata Boko features this blue dragon.

The pool beneath the Main Hall of Yasaka Shrine has become known as the 'dragon hole' as it is believed to be the place where the Blue Dragon lives. The passageway is believed to extend all the way to our original palace garden and the honoured pond where the Dragon Zennyo lives. They are one and the same.

The dragon hole is a place of immense power, and has been protecting the capital, with the Dark Warrior, the White Tiger, and the Red Bird, for centuries.


The Three Gods and the Mikoshi

Yasaka shrine mikoshi

Yasaka shrine is one of the most venerated Shinto shrines in Japan. It's in the Gion district of central Kyoto, and it has a beautiful approach through the main gate to the centre of the shrine.

Enshrined in the Main Hall are the three deities, Susanoo-no-Mikoto, the god of storms (who is the son of the sun goddess Amaterasu); Kushi Inada Hime, the soul of rice; and their children. They are considered to be three deities in total.

For the Gion Festival, the three deities are transported into three portable mikoshi shrines, and they are carried through the streets of central Kyoto. There is one mikoshi for each of the deities: one for Susanoo-no-Mikoto, the god of storms; one for his partner, Kushi Inada Hime, the soul of rice; and one for their children. When they are carried through the streets of Kyoto their presence purifies the area. This is the heart of the festival - the purification by the local gods.

I stood in the crowd at Yasaka Shrine when the bright lantern lights were darkened, and priests entered the stage where the mikoshi rested, carrying large white cloths in a cube shape - this was the transference of the gods to the mikoshi. The spectacle was astonishing: standing in the starlit shrine I tried to comprehend the continuity and direct connection to the same ritual over a thousand years ago.

There are 6 million gods in the Shinto pantheon, and each Kyoto neighbourhood has its own god with its own spiritual energy. By taking the god around the neighbourhood the spiritual energy is renewed - blessings and prayers are made for the entire area - before the god is returned to where they are enshrined.

On July 17th, the first of the Gion Matsuri floats are pulled through central Kyoto, preparing the district to welcome the deities from Yasaka shrine.


Heron Dance

In fact it was in somewhat more recent times

that Emperor Daigo visited his Shinsen-en garden [ruled 897-930]

and spied there, beside the pond, a white heron.

He summoned a chamberlain. "Catch me that heron," he said, "and bring it here."

How to go about catching it, the chamberlain had no idea,

but His Majesty had spoken. The man started toward it.

The heron spread its wings, preparing for flight.

"I bring you His Majesty's command," the chamberlain announced,

at which the bird folded its wings and bowed low.

The chamberlain picked it up and took it to the emperor.

"It is wonderful, indeed," His Majesty said to the heron,

"that you have actually come in answer to your sovereign's call."

Then he turned to the chamberlain.

"Have this heron awarded at once the fifth rank," he ordered. And so it was done.

"Henceforth," His Majesty proclaimed, "you are the Heron King,"

and, before releasing the bird, he hung a tablet with that title around its neck.

His Majesty had no need,

none at all, for the heron.

He had simply wanted known

the weight of an emperor's word.

Royall Tyler translation, The Tale of the Heike

There are dances at Yasaka Shrine for the entertainment of the gods, which include the beautiful sagi odori - the Heron Dance.

The costumes are other-worldly, aren't they, with their fascinating articulated wings :)


The Floats

Gion Matsuri float Kyoto

That vigor now remained in the procession floats, which were decorated with imported Chinese brocade and homespun Gobelin tapestries, gold-brocaded satin, damask, and embroidered cloth, examples of the splendor of the Momoyama period, when beautiful articles reached Japan through foreign trade. The insides of the floats were also decorated with famous paintings. Tradition held that the pillar-like structures at the head of the floats had originally been masts on trading ships authorized by the shogun.

Kawabata Yasunari, The Old Capital.

To give a sense of scale, the wheels of the floats are as tall as me and the spires are as tall as the buildings along the main shopping street!

Each of the floats has its own deity and they are taken around the streets of central Kyoto. Musicians play evocative music, and the local population celebrate, welcoming the deities to central Kyoto.


The Music

The Gion Festival would not be the Gion Festival without the recognizable Gion bayashi music played by bamboo flutes, drums and cymbals. The music soon becomes hypnotic as you walk the streets, and originally it was intended to induce a trance-like state in order to make contact with nature spirits and the departed who are missed.

As you walk along the lanes in the evening, you begin to come across high lantern-lit windows with musicians practising the beguiling music. The heat of the city encourages them to sit near the open windows.

Now as in the past, on days before and during the matsuri, the festival district comes alive with the mesmerising kon kon chikichin, konchikichin sounds.


The Festival Boy

Gion Matsuri chigo Kyoto

In Kawabata Yasunari's novel, The Old Capital, he describes the atmosphere of Gion Matsuri:

The Gion Festival was held annually at the shrine, so it was nothing unusual for Chieko; not only was she a Kyoto girl, but, living near Shijo, she was a parishioner of Yasaka Shrine. It was another festival of the sultry Kyoto summer.

Chieko's fondest memory was seeing Shin'ichi riding on a float as a festival boy. Whenever she heard the Gion bands and saw the floats surrounded by lanterns, the memory of Shin'ichi would come back to life. Both Shin'ichi and Chieko had been about seven or eight years old at the time.

"I've never seen a girl as beautiful as that child." Chieko followed Shin-ichi when he went to Gion Shrine to be appointed Major General of the Fifth Rank and again when he rode on the float in the procession. Shin'ichi came in his festival costume accompanied by two attendants to greet Chieko at her family's shop. She stared at him, blushing when he called her name. Shin'ichi wore lip rouge and makeup, but Chieko's face was merely suntanned. The bench at the lattice door was overturned, and Chieko, wearing a red dappled obi with her summer kimono, had been setting off small fireworks with some neighborhood children.

Even now, the image of Shin'ichi as a festival boy lingered in the sound of the Gion bands and the lights of the floats.

Gion Matsuri chigo Kyoto

The essays of John Carroll are wonderfully informative too:

The beginnings of the festival boy [and the Nepali Living Goddess] will be in shamanism. It was a practice for children to be vessels of purity through which gods and spirits could convey messages.

It was believed that kami could enter objects such as particular trees, rocks, and even the Japanese Imperial Regalia. Pure young boys made the perfect yorimashi for the kami to descend into.

John Carroll continues:

There are three “celestial children” at the heart of the Gion Festival who are usually between ages eight and ten.

In preparation for their sacred role in the Gion Festival, these three most important chigo traditionally are not allowed to have any contact with women during the run-up to the festival. They must also avoid certain foods for a stipulated period.

After the kami enter their bodies, their feet are not supposed to touch the earth, either. Furthermore, they wear special clothing and have distinctive haircuts which set them apart.

When I had the opportunity to ask Catherine Pawasarat a question, in her live Zoom event about Gion Matsuri, I asked her about the chigo, and she told me that they are a remnant of Japanese style shamanic tradition. Historically, they would have been considered mediums for the different divine energies that were seeking to communicate with humans in this realm that we live in every day.

Gion Matsuri chigo kyoto

She explained that originally there were two kinds of floats: you could roughly say large ones and small ones although it's not quite that simple, but the large ones all had a chigo which was the boy in the white makeup and the elaborate clothing. And at the beginning of this century, all of the floats except two ceased having a live boy and instead changed over to a statue. The change appears to be because of the incredible expense. Every year a new outfit had to be made for the chigo, and the family of the chigo, while enormously honoured - it is of considerable prestige to be chosen to be the festival boy - but the family would bear the cost.

Originally the chigo would have had a spiritual function. They were considered mediums because children are more pure, and they are imbued with a divine energy from the kami communicating through them during a ritual or ceremony.

But this kind of function is long gone, but we can discern the shape of it through the rituals of the chigo and the requirements of a chigo. They have to eat a special diet. They are not allowed to walk on the ground because that would make them impure.

They are living mostly in seclusion for about a month before the festival takes place, and these are all hallmarks of this kind of shamanic medium practice that we can see in many traditions around the world.

The festival boy who I so much wanted to see, rides by white pony to Yasaka Shrine, and cuts the rope that signifies the beginning of the procession on July 17th.

The Naginata Boko leads the procession. It is the float where you will see the festival boy.

On July 13th, a rite called the naginata-hoko chigo-shasan is held at Yasaka Shrine. During this ceremony, the chigo (the celestial child) who rides on the Naginata float (which is the float that always leads the procession) is taken on horseback together with attendants, to the Yasaka Shrine to receive the blessings of the deity. It is through this ritual that the boy becomes a divine messenger, and it is here that he receives a traditional fifth -level court rank, a ranking that leans back through the centuries to the court rankings of ancient Heian-kyou.


Chimaki Talismans

chimaki talismans Gion Matsuri Kyoto

The website of Yasaka Shrine details the origin of the chimaki talismans that are seen frequently around the city at this time:

In a tale left behind in an anecdote of Bingo no Kuni Fudoki, Susanoo-no-Mikoto, who was travelling in the Nankai region, asked Somin Shorai and Kotan Shorai for lodging. The older brother Somin Shorai was poor and the younger brother Kotan Shorai was prosperous. However, Kotan Shorai refused to lend him lodging, but Somin Shorai, though poor, gave him lodging and food.

Susanoo-no-Mikoto, who was delighted by Somin Shorai's sincerity, promised, "If an epidemic spreads in future generations, they will be called descendants of Somin Shorai, and if they wear a chinowa around their waist, they will be spared.'' In connection with this tale, at the Gion Matsuri, people wear the talisman of "Somin Mirai Shisonya" and serve in Shinto rituals.

Chimaki are rice straw talismans that are put outside homes during the festival to ward off illness. Some stores even offer an edible version that have things like sweet mochi rice inside!

Based on the above story of Somin Shorai, a talisman of "Somin's future descendant" is hung from the eaves of businesses and houses.

Chimaki are seen being eagerly bought in the merchandise marquees next to the floats.

Gion Matsuri Kyoto

I was in the queue for the Kikusui float's Tea Ceremony and a very kind lady had just bought her chimaki and it had come with tickets to climb up into the hoko. She so kindly gave me one of the tickets!

I had a wonderful time visiting the float and the treasures that were on display with it, and thanked her very much!

Kikusui Boko: Tea Ceremony

In her book The Gion Festival: Exploring its Mysteries, Catherine Pawasarat describes how a follower of Tea Master Sen no Rikyu created a small tea hut at the site of the Kikusui float in the 16th century. Kikusui maintains its strong connection to tea by offering a communal tea ceremony in the area adjacent to the float.

Kikusui Tea Ceremony Kyoto

Tea ceremony sweets Kyoto

The Kikusui tea ceremony is much anticipated - the friendly lady who I queued and sat with had travelled from Tokyo to attend, and looked forward to it every year.

The queue of people is let in all at once to fill the tables and wait their turn to be served. A lady in kimono whisks the matcha tea at the front of the room.

The tea is served with a yokan-style sweet which was delicious!

The pretty pink serving plate is included in the price of the ticket, and is very collectable. My friend said that last year's had been ivory white! The plate is in the shape of a chrysanthemum, which is highlighted in the name 'kikusui': kiku means chrysanthemum and sui means water :)


Byobu Matsuri, The Screen Displays

old machiya house Kyoto

One of the floats is shaped like a ship, and it is called Fune Boko.

Adjacent to the float is this beautiful old kimono merchant's house called Nagae-Ke, which during the festival is open to visitors. It is a beautiful house to visit, with the most wonderful

treasures inside. I spent some time looking at the very beautiful ink paintings displayed on screens, and the exquisite lacquerware.

I was fascinated by the old kitchen.

No photos were allowed inside the building, but staff were very kind, taking time to sit and talk about the building and the artefacts.

There was also a very interesting display of old photos and film of the matsuri.

Gion Matsuri tapestries Kyoto

When you buy a ticket to go up into a hoko, next to the upper storey walkway will be a collection of beautiful antique treasures on display.

View from a hoko Gion matsuri Kyoto

View from the hoko!


The Practice Float-pulling

As you walk the lanes beyond Shijo/Karasuma it is very exciting to see the floats begin to appear as they are constructed. These massive wooden constructions are lashed together with ropes and complex knots. Gradually the frames are hung with ancient tapestries with a long history, kept until the procession under plastic.

gion matsuri hoko knots

Finally, the days of the practise-pulling arrives, and the area erupts with noise and music and crowds as the fantastic chariots are pulled by ropes along the streets.

Volunteers can take part in the pulling!

It was magnificent to watch the proud Kyoto men leading each chariot, recreating the fan dance that has been performed for centuries.

And I queued for an hour and a half in the blistering heat to see the chigo of the Naginata Boko practise the rope cutting that would start the Gion Matsuri procession - and it was fantastic!!!



Kyoto flowers

Hiougi, Leopard Flower, is the flower of the Gion Matsuri, and you can see it for sale and in windows across the festival district!

Its fan shape is reminiscent of the shape of the hinoki cypress fans of those Heian court ladies all those centuries ago :)



The back lanes below the main street that leads up to Karasuma and Shijo have cute little stands selling cooling pickled cucumbers, beers, and have fairground-type stalls with games and prizes.

Here you can see ayu river fish prepared on sticks to eat - ayu fascinate me as they are mentioned in The Tale of Genji!

The streets are busy, and there is a lovely happy atmosphere! Many families wear yukata :)


My visit to Kyoto was timed for the build-up to Gion Matsuri, and to see Tanabata in the city. When I planned my trip I had hoped to see just two things: Tanabata tea ceremony sweets and the Gion Matsuri chigo.

I stayed in a hotel located in the quiet lanes behind Kennin-ji, which is the large temple with beautiful grounds just at the top of Gion Corner.

Every day I cut through this area, and was fortunate to glimpse many beautiful maiko. I believe that on the day of the procession they make tea in Gion. Perhaps the painting below illustrates this!

Kyoto maiko

I would absolutely recommend visiting Gion Matsuri. In no way was I prepared for the fun, the colour, and the dazzling amazement that I felt at seeing my beloved city display its beautiful treasures, and its ability to create a wonderful spectacle and welcome visitors!


I hope you have enjoyed reading about Gion Matsuri and Kyoto's fascinating ancient traditions.

If you have, you may enjoy reading our next blog about Tea Ceremony in Kyoto :)

See you soon!



tanabata festival girl


Tokuriki Tomikichiro, Gion Matsuri (1950's, from printed by Uchida, Kyoto)

Wada Sanzo, Gion Maiko, (1948, Japanese Art Database)

Catherine Pawasarat, The Gion Festival, Exploring its Mysteries plus her online events and website

Catherine Pawasarat, Blog: Gion Matsuri Dragons

Steve Biemel, Japan Craft 21

Read more about Gion Matsuri: Essays by John Carroll at including the chigo

More about the festival boy

Black and white photo of Gion Matsuri c.1903, mydramalist.

Kawabata Yasunari, (translated by J. Martin Holman), The Old Capital, (Counterpoint Press), pp. 84-85; p.90.

Read more about Nepal's Living Goddess at The Longest Way and BBC News

Photo of Kumari Ghar: The Built Culture

Photo of Living Goddess: Unique Adventure

Photo of Patan: OMG Nepal

The Blue Dragon: Translated by Royall Tyler, The Tale of the Heike, (Penguin Classics), p.255.

The Blue Dragon: Live Japan

The Dragon King Zennyo: Dr. M. W. de Visser, The Dragon in China and Japan, (1912), pp.159-162.

The Heron Dance: The Tale of the Heike, translated by Royall Tyler, (Penguin Classics), p.267.


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