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Archive for October, 2008

I am from a  tropical country, but the summer in Kyoto is completely out of my heat threshold. At noon it could reach 36 degrees Celsius and the humidity makes me panting and sweating all the time.

The good technology allows for every building and transportation to have air conditioners (in winter these AC work as a heater). Although, in offices, supermarkets and universities, out of respect to the environment, the AC must be set at minimum 28 degrees.

Despite of the heat, Japanese business men still wear suit and tie and plenty Japanese ladies still wear long sleeves to cover her pretty white skin and god knows how many layers of sunblock lotions.

However, all the long sleepy sweating days are bearable because of all the festivals around.

The first festival which indicate the beginning of summer is Gion Matsuri.

Gion Matsuri (the Festival of Gion) is one of the biggest, most glorious festivals in Japan, which you can only find in the lovely ancient capital, Kyoto.

It started a long time ago in the 9th century when Kyoto was hit by an epidemic.  The priests of Yasaka decided they need to praise the Shinto Gods to stop the spreading of the diseases, hence they lead a parade throughout the city and their prayers were answered. The epidemic stopped. Since then, the tradition is carried out every year to this day.

The festival officially started from the beginning of July, with various preparation steps, such as building and blessing ceremonies of the floats. The chosen people build 32 extravagant floats, which are called Yama (also means mountain) and Hoko.

The morning of 17th of July is the main festival day, where these Yama and Hoko are paraded along the main streets of Kyoto. They chant, sing, play flute and drum instrument, and yell ‘pull’ to keep the spirit of festival.

Yama is paraded through Kyoto streets

Each float weighs around 1 to 12 tons. And since the floats are built in accordance to the traditional ways, there are no machines implanted whatsoever, only old craftmanship of big wheels and human power.

gion2

The best place to stand and wait (there is no need to follow the floats around) would be at the corners of the streets, either at Shiyakusho, Shijo Kawaramachi or Karasuma Kawaramachi, because  turning this huge piece of art left or right requires extra everything. They scream do ‘pull’ and ‘halt’ in amazing spirit, power and coordination.

If you are planning to visit Kyoto for Gion Matsuri, don’t miss the night before this main parade day, which is the night of Yoiyama, at the 16th of July. Again, please check the schedules and book your hotels etc months before, since this is Kyoto’s high season.

The night of Yoiyama is all about strolling, eating and drinking on a hot summer night. The city center is wonderfully decorated, with colorful food and sweets, summer toys, girls and boys in traditional and funky yukata, and chanting musics everywhere. It might seem too crowded but Japanese people have high manners and patience, so there is no pushing around.

Well, unless it is after midnight and they are all drunk.

Goodbye summer, we miss you already.

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