Exploring the Roots and Origin of Gion Festival

Gion festival dates back almost 1200 years, and its energetic burst is still evident today. It is one of the oldest festivals in Japan that has stood the test of the time and evolved accordingly so that it does not lose its impact and popularity. There is a lot to celebrate during the month-long festival in Gion, Kyoto city, Japan.

The first Gion Matsuri

The Gion Matsuri began as a ritual, the goryo-e’ rituals that were mainly held to appease the gods. There were many disasters and epidemics during the Heian period, and that’s when the people organized and began this festival to put an end to the plagues. The emperor at the time, emperor Seiwa called for the people to beseech the God of Yasaka shrine for help.

The preparations began by bringing together 66 halberds to represent the provinces of Japan at the time. When the festival was held, the disasters seemed to stop, and this made it that every time an epidemic broke, they would re-enact the festival. 970 is the year that the festival became an annual event.

The evolution Gion festival

The festival that people celebrate today is less a few of the original rituals but still, has the gusto and impact. When it became an annual event, incorporating dances, floats, and music into the festival became the norm. There is more entertainment in the festival today than there was in the first ceremony.

During the Heian period (8C~12C), the festival was purely a purification ritual. In 1185, the Kamakura period (12C~14C) introduced crafts and kimonos to the festival. Every year the floats got bigger, and this led to the attachment of wheels since it was impossible to lift them.

The 16th-century textiles from other parts of the world decorated the floats in the festival. Many of the floats during that time caught on fire; this was most recurrent during the Edo and Meiji periods (17C~19C). The locals, however, put their best foot forward every time and rebuilt them so that the festival would go on.

The festival was almost completely abolished when Ashikaga Shogunate in 1533 declared that all religious events should stop. The people protested so much and even chose to halt the rituals, but have the procession remain. That was the end point of most of the rituals and more entertaining events were taken up. All the floats in the festivals have special storage places in Kyoto, and they are brought out during the festival.


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