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Gion matsurl, the festival of the Yasaka shrine in Kyoto, takes place annually from July 17th to 24th. It originated in a procession held in 869 AD. to seek the protection of the deities against a plague that was ravaging the country; the plague abated and ever since, the citizens of Kyoto have observed the festival. On the 17th, when the festival reaches its climax, floats two stories high and sumptuously decorated are drawn through the streets, each accompanied by a retinue of singers and musicians and people to pull the floats along. Each float is topped by a high pole, necessitating the temporary removal of overhead cables from the streets along the route. Clinging to these poles, members of the retinue throw chimaki (sweet rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) to the crowds of spectators; these sweets are said to bring good health in the coming year.
This festival is observed annually on October 22nd at Kurama, near Kyoto. It is a fire festival in which the participants – Iocal people and visitors – carry lighted torches to the local shrine. Those carried by the men are huge, and may weigh up to 50kg. The streets are filled with bonfires. At midnight, the mikoshi (portable shrines) are carried through the lines of fire to the river, where sacred dances called kagura are performed by torchlight. In Shinto symbolism, fire purifies all things and on this night it is believed that no harm will come to the town and all who live there.
This colourful festival is held on Octorber 22nd every year at Heian shrine in Kyoto, which was builtin in 1895 to commemorate the first Emperor of Kyoto, Kanmu, and the last Emperor to reside in Kyoto, Komei. Emperor Kanmu eatablished Kyoto as the capital in 794 and the jidai matsuri provides a panorama of the costumes of every era from that time up to 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. Not only are the contums comoletely authentic, but the participants in the parade represent historic figures or portray specific events of the time. Offerungs to the spirits of the two Emperors are carried within the procession, attended by musicians, young pages in mythical cousumes and adults in court dress.
The Aoi matsuri, said to be the world's oldest surviving festival, takes place at the Shimogamo and Kamigamo shrines in Kyoto on May 15th. It is said to have been observed for the first time 1,400 years ago when, according to legend, the Kyoto people celebrated the abatement of a serious flood. Branches of a plant with heart-shaped leaves(aoi) are carried durring the procession, hence the name of the festival. The procession is very beautiful; the participants wear costumes in the style of the Heian period and a feature of the procession is a large, wisteria-decorated carrige drawn bey black oxen.
This gay festival honours the 9th century statesman and scholar Sugawara Michizane, revered under the name Tenjin. It is held at the Tenmangu shrine in Osaka on July 25th. The festival has many elements. During the day, rhere is a parade of bands, dancers and people in fabulous costumes. A mikoshi containing the spirit of Michizane and an oxcart conrtaining worksof literature represent the ancient tradition of the festival. In the evening, the peocession takes to the river on about eighty decorrated boats, to the accompaniment of music and merrymaking. Bonfiles are lit along the banks. Finally, the sacred objects are returned to the shrine and festival ends with a firework display. The first Tenjin festival is said to have taken place in the year 949 AD.
The Mifune matsuri is the festival of Kurumazaki shrine in Kyoto. It is observed annually on the third Sunday of May and the central feature of the festival is a boat procession recalling the colourful boating excursions of the Kyoto court in the Heian period. Two types of boat take part in the procession: one with the bow in the bow in the shape of a dragon and the other with the bow in the shape of bird's head. Musicians with wind and string instruments play on the former and an ancient dance called karyobin is performed on the latter. The festival also includes a parade of chigo pages in costumes, and special exhibitions.
This rural festival is held annually at the shirahige shrine on Suga island in Toba, Mie Prefecture. More than 200 women divers(ama) dive into the sea on the 11th day of sixth lunar month and complete in gathering abalone(awabi) off the eastern shore of the island; this part of the shore is closed to fishing for the remainder of the year. The abalone collected during the festival day is offered to the deity of the Shirahige shirine.
Ura bon (or obon) is a major Japanese festival and one which is celebrated between the 13th and 16th of July (in some parts of Japan in August). The purpose of the festival is to perpetuate and observe the memory of the ancestors; at the time of the festival, their spirits are said to return briefly to this world. Obon is a family festival and on the first day visits are made by candlelight to the family graves and prayers are said in front of the family altar.
Bon odori (bon dances) were originally a part of the religious rites but towards the end of the Muromachi period (1392-1573) they developed as a form of public recreation and the dances are held on mid-summer days between July and the beginning of September in an atmosphere of great gaiety and festivity. The dances, rather simple in form. are held in a large open space around a central platform and they are enjoyed by young and old alike.
Kite-flying(yako age) has been enjoyed in Japan for many centuries and the making of kites has developed into a minor art form. Japanese kites are brilliantly decorated with paintings of ancient warriors, graphic desgins or written characters implying strength, such as "ryu" (dragon). Kites used in festivals may be up to six metres wide, requiring many men to fly them. Chilldren enjoy flying kites around the time of the New Year, when the sky over Japanese beaches and parks is often decorated with their interesting shapes and gay colours.
This game is found in slightly modified form in many parts of the worl. In the Japanese game, the bat is made of a wege-shaped piece of solid wood and the shuttlecock is a small ball of wood or other heavy material studded with feathers. There are no specific rules of play except to prevent the shuttlecock from falling to the ground. The bat, hagoita, is often decorated on the reverse side with a motif made in padded silk; beatutiful women, warriors, cranes and other lucky symbols are among the most popular motifs. Battledore and shuttlecock is essantially a New Year game and it is at its most picturesque when played by yooung girls wearing their elaborate New Year kimono.
This game is based on a collection of tanka(31-syllable poems) compiled by Fujiwara Sadaie in the 15th century and known as the Hyakunin isshu. The collection includes one poems by each of one houndred posts, among whom were emperors, scholars and novelists, both men and women. Two hundred cards are in the game; half carry a portrait of the poet and the complete poem, the rest have the second half of the poem only. The leader of the game calls out the first half of a poem from the portrait cards and the players try to complete the poem from the matching cards laid out on the tatami. The game became popular around the 17th century and it is till played as an elegant pastime during the New Year holidays.
The contents of this site are excerpted from THE OFFICIAL RECORD OF TIME CAPSULE EXPO'70(March 1975). Please note that company and organization names may differ from those of the current ones.
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