【What is “Chigo”?】
Kyoto city is adorned with Gion festival decorations and music for a whole month of July every year.
By mid-July when yamaboko, which is often referred to as a moveable museum, appears on the streets (yamaboko tate), the city is filled with a palpable sense of energy.
Out of 33 yamaboko, the most popular is naginata hoko. It’s because naginata hoko takes the lead of yamaboko junko parade every year, and it is the only hoko with a child called “chigo” on it.
Chigo is the most crucial figure in Gion festival.
You might be wondering; what is chigo then?
【The role of Chigo】
Chigo is the living god of Gion festival.
He is the child who became a god insteads of real gods.
It was said that the spirit of gods tend to descend upon young children, and so children participated in festivals held by shrines from ancient times. A great number of chigo took part in yamaboko junko of Gion festival as well, however it is only on naginata hoko that chigo rides in modern times.
Chigo, who participates in various ceremonies in lieu of gods, prays for safety in festival season.
Of all the ceremonies, the biggest duty of chigo must be shimenawa kiri (cutting the sacred rope) in yamaboko junko parade.
Chigo cutting off shimenawa (the sacred rope) signifies breaking through the boundary between god and human, thus being able to carry yamaboko into the sacred area.
This ceremony can only be conducted by chigo, who takes part in the festival in lieu of gods, and it is the highlight of Gion festival!
【How to select Chigo】
How do you think that Chigo, who is the most important role in Gion Matsuri Festival, is selected?
Actually, the selection method is not open to public…However, the public announcement states that chigo to be chosen from “boys of age 8-10 from families in or related to Naginataboko-cho town and which no family member has passed away within the past year”.
Since the child to be on the hoko must be from the same town as the hoko itself, he formally becomes adopted in Naginataboko-cho which owns naginata hoko.
It is said that the family of the chosen chigo has to bear the costs for the Gion festival ceremony and its operation. Apparently it would sum up to over 20 million yen!
In short, although it says “chosen from submissions”, only children from wealthy families are to be chosen.
【The condition for chigo to become god】
The life of chigo changes from 13th of July, “Shasan no gi”.
In this ceremony, chigo officially becomes the gods’ representative.
After this ceremony, he lives according to the strict rules to purify both his mind and body.
Only men take care of chigo; when he eats, bathes and sleeps. Chigo cannot communicate with his mother or eat food cooked by women. It is also the tradition to purify himself with a piece of flint before eating or changing clothes.
Moreover, it is strictly prohibited for chigo to put his feet on the ground!
When conducting “shasan no gi” or getting on and off hoko, chigo is carried by the person called “gouriki” and does not set feet on the ground.
Gion Matsuri Festival continues for a month,but the days you can see Chigo are limited.
When you come to Kyoto in July, you should imprint the figure of a living god, Chigo, into your memory!