Origins of the Gion Festival: How did We Love each other?

When the Gion Festival started being celebrated in Kyoto 1100 years ago, Japan was finally living in peace. The Japanese were, for the first time in history, free to dwell on issues outside warship. The Heian Era (8C~12C) marked Japan as one of the defining times concerning arts, beauty, society, and elegance. Let’s take a look at how love and marriage were evolving back then.

Love in the Heian Era: A Matter of Class

The Heian society was a hierarchical one, and it’s no surprise that “marriage” came as an event used to produce offspring meant for a higher social class.

The union of a man and a woman wasn’t usually monogamous or permanent. Love had little to do with this union, and having multiple partners was encouraged for both men and women.

The term “marriage” didn’t exist, you wouldn’t see people bringing dates to see the Gion Festival, as we do these days. A couple would know each other through letters during months or years. If the man decided to form a union – however temporary that union may have been – he arranged to meet at night in the woman’s family house.

The couple met alone, they were intimate with each other and had long conversations to verify that their counterpart was indeed the author of the letters since cheating was also fairly common as a mechanism to escalate to a higher social class.

If He decided to meet for three nights, the woman’s family would celebrate a banquet to welcome the man into the household. There was no marriage and no ceremony; it was that simple.

Love and Marriage in the Western Culture

The Western world saw Japan’s unions as immoral since the church was involved in the marriage institution from the 5th century. The wedding ceremonies were small, and a priest was usually present.

The love side of things, however, was very much like in Japan. Marriages were arranged, and love didn’t play a part, couples married to have children and to position themselves better within the society.

Polygamy was – and still is – accepted in Muslim marriages. Only Christian settlements practiced monogamy, and it was common seeing people with extra-marital affairs, which were treated as romantic.

How love and Marriage has Changed Since Then

Marriage nowadays is deeply linked to love, most of Japan’s and Western cultures believe in the idea of forming families in which the couple supports one another as companions for life, and for the raising of their children into valuable citizens.

Monogamy is widely accepted throughout the world now, and dating is conceived as a normal courtship process. During the Gion Festival nowadays, couples promenade the streets with their hands intertwined.

The Gion Festival, preserved as a protected piece of history, has seen the evolution of humanity throughout the centuries. Certainly, there is no more dramatic change as our views on love and marriage. And, different though we may be in the form in which we express our feelings, deep down both Americans are Japanese are culturally closer than ever before.


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