Jul. 08, 2019 UPDATE
A Comprehensive Guide to Enjoying Yourself at Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri!
Part 3

The Yamahoko Procession – a Parade of Moving Art Galleries

In part three of our feature on the Gion Matsuri festival, we will introduce you to the biggest highlight of the festival, the “Yamahoko Junko" procession of floats.

It is said that the Yamahoko Junko procession began when people walked floats through the streets of downtown Kyoto in an attempt to protect the city from disasters.
The procession is divided into two parts, the Saki Matsuri, and the Ato Matsuri, both of which feature the moving art galleries that are the magnificently decorated Yamahoko floats. The procession is also given an extremely lively background of Japanese “taiko” drum and flute performances.

Check out the article below for more information on both the Saki Matsuri and Ato Matsuri.
Yamahoko Junko – Float Procession (Saki Matsuri)
Yamahoko Junko
The first Yamahoko Junko procession is called the “Saki Matsuri” and it takes places on the morning of July 17th. The procession features a total of 23 Yamahoko floats, with the Naginatahoko float leading the procession and the Funehoko float closing it.
The procession kicks off at the intersection of Shijokarasuma and makes its way through the streets of Shijo-dori, Kawaramachi-dori, and Oike-dori.
Highlight No.1 – Tsuji-mawashi
What is Tsuji-mawashi?

“Tsuji-mawashi” is the operation of rotating the over 10-ton Yamahoko floats 90 degrees at the different intersections.
By laying bamboo on the road, dowsing it with water and using ropes to pull the float from the side, these absolute behemoths are made to turn 90 degrees. This is an exceedingly demanding operation, so each turn takes quite a bit of time.

The floats that can be seen making these Tsuji-mawashi turns during the Saki Matsuri are: Naginatahoko, Kankohoko, Niwatorihoko, Kikusuihoko, Tsukihoko, Hokahoko, Iwatoyama, and Funehoko

Reccomended Viewing Spots:
The Shijo-kawaramachi Intersection (Most crowded)
The Kawaramachi-oike Intersection
The Shinmachi-oike Intersection

There will be quite a large number of people on the day, so it is best to go early to ensure a quality spot.
Highly No. 2 – Shimenane-giri Procession Commencement Ceremony

Location: Shijo-fuyacho

Atop the lead-float, the Naginatahoko sits a small boy called the “Chigo” who is traditionally an attendant to the gods. The Chigo is tasked with initiating the procession by using a katana to cut the "Shimenawa" ceremonial ribbon and open the border between our world and the world of the gods.
Although an actual child takes the position of the Chigo on the Naginatahoko float, other floats use dolls in place of real Chigo.
Highlight No. 3 – Chigo-mai (Naginatahoko)
Location: Naginatahoko Hozonkai (Near Shijokarasuma and Tokyu Hands)

At this event, the Chigo of the Naginatahoko float carries out the “Taihei-no-Mai” blessing to pray for the safety of the festival and expulsion of disease from the city.
The Chigo is a young boy, usually around ten years old and is generally chosen from families with long histories.
The Chigo’s sincere performance of their Chigo-mai dance is very cute as well.
Highlight No. 4 – Gion Hayashi Performance
Hayashi Performance
The group of performers on each float, known as “Ohayashi,” plays a critical role at the festival of expelling evil spirits, including disease.
The festive Ohayashi performances, which are made up of 20 people playing a mix of “Kane” bells, “Fue” flutes and “Taiko” drums, are the symbol of Gion Matsuri and a must see for anyone coming to the festival.
The arrangements of the Ohayashi change depending on the float, so you can enjoy going around the city and comparing each performance.
Yamahoko Junko (Ato Matsuri)
Ato Matsuri
During the Ato Matsuri procession, ten floats, including the leading Hashibenkeiyama and Ofunehoko float, can be seen leaving off from the intersection of Karasuma-oike. From there, the procession makes its way down Oike-dori to Kawaramachi-dori and finally across Shijo-dori. The floats which can be seen turning at the intersections are Kitakannonyama, Minamikannonyama, and Ofunehoko.
Highlight No. 1 – Hashibenkeiyama
This float shows the historical fight between the Japanese worries Benkei and Ushiwakamaru on the Gojo Ohashi bridge.
The float features an awesome looking figure of Benkei wielding a massive Naginata long-handled sword and has been designated an Important Tangible Folk Cultural Property.
Highlight No. 02 – Ofunehoko
The Ofunehoko float was lost to a massive fire in 1864, but rebuilt 150 years later and debuted at the revived Ato Matsuri in 2014. This float plays the vital role of being the final decoration to the end of the Ato Matsuri.
Highlight No. 3 – Koiyama
The Koiyama float is a magnificently unique float and is the only one in the festival to take a theme not related to a historical figure. The float features the form of a massive wooden Koi fish splashing around and is based on the folk tale of the Koi fish that climbed the Ryumon falls and transformed into a powerful dragon.
This float was also designated an Important Cultural Property in Japan.
Extra Sights
No. 1 – The Parade Child and Their Costumes
The “Shijokasahoko” float is famous for its group of 18 elementary school children who accompany it and their “Bofuri” stick swinging dance.
Honorable Mention No. 2 – Foreign Participants
Foreign Participants
In 2015, a float which featured float bearers made up entirely of foreign volunteers made history at the festival with its debut. Every year since then, you have been able to see foreign volunteers taking part in the procession. While still holding on to its traditional roots, Gion Matsuri is also willing to allow foreigners into the festival as well, and we think there is something beautiful about that.

Regarding the Purchasing of Paid Seating

At the festival, there are paid seating options available where you can sit and relax while you watch the procession.
We recommend this option to anyone who would like to sit down and watch the procession. Together with normal seating, there are several other options, including seats which include English explanations.
For anyone interested, please check the details of the paid seating options below at the official Kyoto travel website.

At the Yamahoko Junko float procession, you can see beautifully decorated pieces of moving art, including designated Important Cultural Properties, up close and enjoy a deeply interesting event with over a thousand years of history.

The festival is often incredibly crowded and smoldering hot, but if you’re going to the effort of coming all the way to Kyoto, then don’t miss out on the opportunity to see one of city’s most popular and most worth while events!

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