It’s time for the big Gion festival in Kyoto. My students at English Buffet tell me that 400,000 visitors will come to Kyoto for the festival, which takes place over the course of about a week and culminates in a big parade… tomorrow.
Gion festival was started over 1000 years ago during a plague to placate the god Gion, who, my students say, is enshrined at Kyoto’s Yasaka Shrine, which is a big one. (Note that the area around Yasaka Shrine, which has many old buildings and tea houses, is called the ‘Gion district’.)
For some reason, placating a god involves building very large parade floats. The floats are the main event at Gion festival. Each neighborhood in central Kyoto has its own float, which is the same design every year going back into the ancient past. The floats are built in the streets for several days before the parade, and tourists swarm all the streets to look at the floats while street vendors sell food, beer, and souvenirs.
Mugenjuku’s new dojo on the corner of Marutamachi and Kamanza streets doesn’t have a neighborhood float. However, the old Mugenjuku dojo near Shijo Street did. The old Shijo dojo was under the protection of the god Hakurakuten, and the float’s name is Hakurakuten yama. Here is a Flickr photo of the float (like that alliteration?)…
Hakurakuten yama depicts a famous Zen priest debating a point of doctrine with a poet. The tapestries on the side show scenes from the western epic The Iliad. Why? My guess is that the tapestries are there only because of their immense value at the time the float was first built. This Greek scene was probably on a tapestry imported from the Near East or South Central Asia, where wool rugs were and are made. Anyhow…
For the sake of good will and good memories, sewanin Nick took Takenaga and me to the old dojo yesterday to help raise money for the old neighborhood float. Here we are calling customers to buy charms of/from Hakurakuten…
Hawking wares in Japanese involved learning some new phrases. Now I am very good at shouting, “IRASHAIMASE!!” (“welcome”) and “CHIMAKI IKAGA DESU KA?!!” (“what do you think of a lucky charm?”).
It was more fun than it looked in this photo. At one point, the building owners brought me an Asahi Super Dry, so I was holding a beer behind my fan. After several hours, we were invited inside to have some refreshments.
The building that hosts Hakurakuten and acts as the center of Hakurakuten yama organisation is the same building the old dojo was in. As it happens, the tapestries are also stored in a special vault, where they are kept safe from insects and thieves.
This was a nice way to spend a Monday evening. Meeting new people, watching the crowds, and seeing some pieces of both Kyoto and Mugenjuku history.