We were in Kyoto during Gion festival time. The Gion festival runs over weeks and embraces two parades as well as numerous smaller events, nights of street carnival, days with observances to be made, blessings to be received, shrines to be moved from place to place–and so much more. Some of the preparations were of course mundane, as in the case of this banner, placed in preparation for a neighbourhood to build its float and then fundraise for the maintenance of its neighbourhood float and celebrate in style. One night we came past this banner and there were matching koi t shirts for sale as well as food and drink.
These are not just any old floats. They are kept in pieces in the neighbourhoods they represent throughout the year, assembled on the street and displayed, and then paraded through the streets. They are part of a tradition centuries long, and many parts of the floats, as well as the treasures that decorate them, have long histories. Many are assembled as they always would have been, with heavy wooden structures held together with ropes made of plant fibres.
Some are very large and some relatively small, and almost all now dwarfed by buildings standing in the streets, while in photos I saw in museums–you can see these floats towered over the city buildings even at the time photography had come into existence. Surely when these floats originated, they would have towered over every building in the city.
Because of the heat, I walked past groups of men building these structures and intermittently lying down in the shade to rest. Every single part of the float has significance–historical, local, spiritual, literary. The interpretive signs that were eventually erected for the ignorant (such as me) offered a small introduction to stories about what the float represented and the way this might be changing though time.
The balcony you can see in each large float is a space for the Gion Bayashi musicians to sit and perform during the parade. As we walked in the still very warm evenings, we came upon rehearsals of Gion Bayashi musicians which we could hear from the street and sometimes see through an upstairs window. Eventually we came across a rehearsal in the float itself.
And, all over Kyoto, an air of expectation.