Summer 2018

a group of performers for the Gion Matsuri festival


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Gion Matsuri

Gion Matsuri (祇園祭), the festival of Yasaka Shrine, is the most famous festival in Japan. It takes place over the entire month of July. There are many different events, but the grand procession of floats (Yamaboko Junko) on July 17 is particularly spectacular. Very enjoyable are also the festive evenings preceding the procession (Yoiyama). From 2014, a second procession of floats was reintroduced on July 24 after a hiatus of 48 years. The second procession features fewer and smaller floats than the one on July 17. The word Yamaboko refers to the two types of floats used in the procession: the 23 yama and 10 hoko. One of the main reasons the Gion Matsuri is so impressive is the enormity of the hoko, which are up to 25 meters tall, weigh up to 12 tons, and are pulled on wheels as big as people. Both yama and hoko are elaborately decorated and represent unique themes. The procession on July 17 features 23 yama and hoko, including most of the particularly impressive hoko, while the procession on July 24 features the remaining ten yama and hoko.
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crowd of people attending the Sanno Matsuri festival



Sanno Matsuri

The Sanno Festival (山王祭) is the last of Tokyo’s major festivals and one of the three great festivals of Edo. It takes place over an 11-day period at Hie Shrine in Chiyoda. There are many small events over the course of the festival, but the main attraction is the 300-strong procession through central Tokyo replete with floats and mikoshi (portable shrines) which departs from Hie Shrine at 7:30am and returns at 4:45pm on the 8th. Hie Shrine is in fact the designated protector of the city (it was built on high ground so that it could be seen from the former Edo Castle), and the procession goes via Tokyo Imperial Palace so that the head priest can perform a rituals to offer prayers to the emperor.
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Performers dancing in the Yamaga Toro Festival



Yamaga Toro

This festival held at Omiya-Shrine is one of the three greatest fire festivals of summer in Kumamoto, known as the Land of Fire. Its rivals are the Hi-no-Kuni Matsuri, or the Land of Fire Festival, held in early August in Kumamoto City and the Nagomi-machi Kofun Matsuri, or the Nagomi Town Ancient Tombs Festival , held at the beginning of August in Nagomi-machi, Tamana-gun. Its origins lie in the ancient legend of how the Emperor and his suite, hindered by fog, were received by villagers holding pine torches to illuminate their path. Also known as the ‘festival held throughout the night,’ the Sennin Toro Odori on the second day refers to 1,000 women, dressed in cotton summer kimono and bearing lighted gold and silver lanterns on their heads, dance all night long as they sing ‘Yoheho-bushi’ in a very slow tempo. As for the men, they reproduce the scene of welcoming the Emperor and line up for the Pine Torch Procession in ancient costume.
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