These floats were created in this way to imitate the mountain like objects used in prayers to the gods during ancient imperial handing over ceremonies.
The Gion Matsuri Yamahoko are often also called “moving art galleries” as they are beautifully decorated with “Kesohin” decorations, which include beautiful embroidery and fabrics shipped in from all over the world.
The largest of the floats weighs an impressive 12 tons and requires a team of 180 people for the initial construction, parade, and eventual deconstruction.
Trivia: In 2016, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, added 33 of Japan’s “Yama, Hoko, Yatai float festivals” across 18 Japanese prefectures representatives to their list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The float has also become the symbol of Gion Matsuri and every year heads the procession of floats. This is also the only float in the entire festival which uses a real child instead of a doll as their “Chigo” festival child.
hokotate – Float Construction: July 10th (Wed) ~ Morning of the 12th
Hikizome – Float Test Run: July 12th (Fri) 3:30 PM ~
The toroyama float is also the only float in the festival with a gimmick. The mantis moves and raises his arms high up in the air! This is a definite must-see.
hokotate – Float Construction: July 13th (Sat) 8:00 AM ~
Hikizome – Float Test Run: July 13th (Sat) 12 PM ~
In addition, carpets from central and western Asia decorate the front, back, and right of the float, while large willow branches can be seen on the right side reaching around from the rear. This is truly a float to be enjoyed from all sides.
Yamadate – Float Construction: July 19th (Fri) 6:00 AM ~
Hikizome – Float Test Run: July 20th (Sat) 3:00 PM ~
At the front of the float, there are also depictions of scenes from the Old Testament, which are definitely worth a look as well.
hokotate – Float Construction: July 10th (Wed) 7:00 AM ~
Hikizome – Float Test Run: July 12th (Fri) 2:00 PM ~
Example) Naginatahoko: July 10th (Wed) 7:00 AM ~ Morning of July 12th (Fri) (The start dates of the Yama/hokotate float constructions differ from float to float. However, the floats will be constructed from July 10th (Wed) ~ July 14th (Sun) for the Saki Matsuri and July 18th (Thurs) ~ July 21st (Sun) for the Ato-matsuri. Also, note that the periods the floats will be constructed differ depending on the float as well)
If you want to see the floats moving about outside of the procession, the Hikizome event will be your only chance. Also, the Chigo festival child of the Naginatahoko can be seen carrying out the “Taihei-no-Mai” festival blessing during this time.
・Saki Matsuri (23 Float Test Run)
July 12th (Fri): Kankohoko: 2:00 PM ~
Niwatoriboko: 2:30 PM ~
Tsukihoko & Kikusuiboko: 3:00 PM ~
Naginatahoko: 3:30 PM ~
July 13th (Sat): Toroyama: 12:00 PM ~
Hokaboko, Funaboko & Iwatoyama: 3:00 PM ~
・Ato Matsuri (10 Float Test Run)
July 20th (Sat): Ofuna, Minami-kannonyama & Kita-kannonyama: 3:00 PM ~
Hachimanyama: 4:00 PM ~ (Test-run participation not available to public)
July 21st (Sun): Hashibenkeiyama: 11:00 AM ~ (Test-run participation not available to public)
Example) Naginatahoko: This float heads east down Shijo-dori Street and turns around at Shijo Tominokoji-dori to return to Naginatabokocho
Tips: At the Hikizome event, the public can join in without the need for a reservation and try their hand at pulling the floats. However, in Naginatahoko’s case, there are usually quite a few people who want to participate, so we recommend lining up at least an hour early.
Tips: Pedestrian Zones and Festival Stalls -
The Saki Matsuri and Yoiyama events are planned for July 14th (Sun) to the 16th (Tues); however, there are no plans to have a pedestrian-only zone or festival stalls on Sunday the 14th. On Monday the 15th and Tuesday the 16th there will be festivals stalls and the roads will be blocked off to allow for a pedestrian-only zone.