長刀鉾 NAGINATA HOKO
According to the traditional regulations of the Gion Festival, this float leads the procession of thirty-two floats every year, in spite of the fact that the order of march for the other floats is determined by lots drawn officially by the Mayor of Kyoto in advance.
The word “Naginata” means halberd in Japanese, and a symbolic halberd is locasted on its summit. This float is said to have the power to exorcise the evil spirits which cause epidemics due to the operation of this halberd. This is also the only float in which a live child rides. This child is chosen specially every year from among many traditional families in Kyoto to represent the Shinto Deities.
占出山 URADE YAMA
This float depicts an ancient tale about the Japanese Empress, Jingu Kogo, the Goddess of safe delivery, who divined the outcome of a war by the number of fish she caught while fishing.(Urade means “divination” in Japanese.)The embroidered brocades on the front and sides show three of Japan’s most scenic wonders.
孟宗山 MŌSŌ YAMA
The scene portrayed on this float is derived from an ancient Chinese legend. On a very cloudy, snowy day, the sick mother of Moso, a poor Chinese man, told her son that she wanted to eat some fresh bamboo chutes, which are impossible to get in winter. But this dutiful son dug into the snowy ground, praying to the Gods for mercy. Then the frozen ground suddenly opened, and he found some bamboo chutes there.
The design of the tapestries on this float is a very plain and philosophical black and white painting, which is rather unique compared to the very colorful tapestries on the other floats.
霰天神山 ARARETENJIN YAMA
In 1510, a great fire raged through Kyoto, but was suddenly extinguished by a rain of hail (“arare” in Japanese) that also dropped a tiny Tenjin statue from the sky. Forever after, Tenjin become a popular deity of hail and fire protection, as well as education. This float represents the Tenmangu Shrine, and includes a statue of Tenjin deity in the middle of it.
函谷鉾 KANKO HOKO
The decoration on the top of this float is a crescent moon, which symbolizes an ancient Chinese legend about “Kankoku” Barrier.
During a civil war in 30 B.C., a lord named “Moshokun” needed to pass through a barrier called “Kankoku” at midnight. Since the rules stated that the barrier had to be opened at the first cock crow morning, the lord mimicked a cock’s crow, and thereby tricked the guards into opening the barrier.
Like many other floats, this float displays both Western and Eastern art masterpieces. The Gobelin tapestry hanging on the front portrays a scene from the “Genesis” chapter of the Old Testament, while the one on the back is a Japanese screen with calligraphy by Saint Kobo Daishi (744-835).
伯牙山 HAKUGA YAMA
During China’s Tsin dynasty (280-419), there was a great koto(horizontal harp) master named Hakuga, but his friend Shoshiki was the only person who truly cherished his musical virtuosity. When Hakuga heard of Shoshiki’s death, he realized no one else could fully appreciate his music, and in his deep grief, he shattered his harp with an axe.
四条傘鉾 SHIJŌKASA HOKO
This float is a re-creation of one of the original halberd float types. The top of the umbrella is adorned with a pine sapling, and small paper decorations.
At the beginning of the Meiji period, once in 1871, Shijokasa Hoko finished participating in the Gion Festival procession. In 1985, the people of the area reconstructed the float. In 1988, Shijokasa Hoko was revived as the last of the 32 floats, after a 117 year absence.
The dancing and music accompanying the float are representative of Kyoto during the Muromachi period. The dancing, which is similar to the Kenketo dancing done at the Taki Shrine in Shiga Prefecture, is performed by 8 children.
芦刈山 ASHIKARI YAMA
This float’s theme is based on “Ashikari”, a famous Noh play. A woman walking on a lonely beach was reunited with her long lost husband, who was living a very poor life, cutting reeds on the seashore. The figure is the husband, who carries some reeds in one hand and a sickle in the other.
月鉾 TSUKI HOKO
The decoration on the top of this float symbolizes a crescent moon. Because the moon has been so admired by the Japanese people for its beauty since ancient times, even now it is often used as a theme in the fine arts, poetry, novels, and music.
This float is full of precious fine art treasures, such as the painting on the ceiling by Okyo Maruyama, one of the greatest Japanese painters of the 18th century, and the carvings at the gables by Jingoro Hidari, one of the greatest Japanese sculptors of the 17th century.
山伏山 YAMABUSHI YAMA
This float depicts “Yamabushi”, Japanese mountain ascetics. According to their beliefs, mountains are the home of wisdom and supernatural powers, which any man can attain by practicing austerities among them long enough. The figure on this float is Jozokisho, a legendary Yamabushi in typical costume.
油天神山 ABURATENJIN YAMA
This float carries a transportable Shinto shrine named after Kitano Tenmangu. It is dedicated to Lord Michizane Sugawara (845-903), an extremely intellectual scholar who served the Emperor. Since he was also one of the three best calligraphers of Japan at that time, Sugawara is considered the deity of education and calligraphy.
太子山 TAISHI YAMA
Taishi means “crown prince” in Japanese. The figure on this float is Shotoku Taishi, the sixth century Japanese prince regent and prodigy, who wrote the first Japanese constitution. Also, it was under his rule that Buddhism was first promulgated and protected by the Japanese Government.
On this float, he is entering a forest in order to select the proper wood to cut for the temple which he has decided to build.
This float is unique among all the floats, as it had a cedar bough, instead of the usual pine bough.
鶏鉾 NIWATORI HOKO
This float portrays an old Chinese legend. The triangle with an inscribed circle at the top of this float symbolizes the birth of a hen (“niwatori” in Japanese). What makes this float famous is the 16th century Belgian-style Gobelin tapestry on the back, which depicts a Trojan War scene from Greek literature.
木賊山 TOKUSA YAMA
This float depicts a scene derived from a very famous Noh play.
An old man was cutting his mare’s tails (“tokusa” in Japanese) on a mountain, he happened to meet his son, who had been kidnapped a long time ago.
The designs of the gorgeous brocade materials which are used for the costume of the figure were originally introduced from Korea and China.
綾傘鉾 AYAKASA HOKO
This float is a recreation of one of the original halberd float types, and is noted for its enormous rooster-patterned umbrella. Traditionally, it was accompanied by a troupe of dancers wearing god masks.
In the Edo Period (1834), the float was rebuilt on a smaller scale with an umbrella on its roof. This, however, was destroyed in the great fire of 1868. From 1879 to 1884, the float participated in the festival parade.
It was renovated to its present appearance in 1979. The central figure in today’s dance is a bear carrying a halberd. Music is provided by bells, drums and flutes. The origins of this dance can be traced back to the 18th century, when it was practiced by the people of Mibu-mura.
蟷螂山 TŌRŌ YAMA
This float derives its name from an old saying in China that a praying mantis, though small, is courageous enough to raise its ‘hatchets’ high in the air and stand in front of a marching army to try to stop it.
The origin of this float dates back to the mid-14th century, when Shijo Takasuke (1292-1352), a high-ranking aristocrat from this neighborhood, courageously fought for a cause and was killed. A rich local merchant named Chin-uirou Tainensouki, who was an immigrant from China, sympathetically associated Shijo Takasuke with the proverbial praying mantis (known as a “Toro” or “Kamakiri” in Japanese), and made a figure of the insect. The praying mantis figure was displayed on a cart owned by the Shijo family, and paraded along with Gion festival floats in 1376, the 25th anniversary of the death of the valorous courtier.
The greatest feature of this float is the fact that the praying mantis and the wheels of the mounted court cart are linked to move together mechanically, which is unique among the Gion floats.
菊水鉾 KIKUSUI HOKO
This float depicts an Chinese legend about a mysterious Chou Dynasty child named “Kikujido”(“Chrysanthemum boy” in Japanese) who lived alone deep in the mountains, and attained eternal youth by drinking the dew from chrysanthemum flowers. This float represents everyone’s wish for longevity and eternal youth.
白楽天山 HAKURAKUTEN YAMA
The two figures on this float are Hakurakuten, a famous Tang dynasty poet of ancient China, and Dorin, a high ranking priest of Zen Buddhism. The scene represents these two persons discussing question of Zen.
The design of the tapestry hanging on the front of the float was adapted from a story of the Trojan War in Greek literature.
郭巨山 KAKKYO YAMA
This float features a figure of Kakkyo, a poor Chinese man from the 3rd century. He was about to bury his son alive, so his son’s share of food could be given to Kakkyo’s very old mother. While he was digging, he found a pot of gold coins, which saved his son’s life and made his whole family rich.
保昌山 HŌSHŌ YAMA
This float depicts the story of Fujiwara Yasumasa (Hosho is another way to read his name in Japanese), an 11th century Japanese warrior. He loved a court lady, who entreated him to get some plum blossoms, which were blooming at the Imperial palace. This float is, therefore, worshiped as the God of love, and on the festival eve, people can get a special talisman for a happy marriage in front of this float.
放下鉾 HŌKA HOKO
At the top of this float, the three disks represent the sun, moon and stars, and it is therefore named “Hoka”(“beaming” in Japanese). It is also said that the image of a monk named Hokaso, which the float enshrines, is the real origin of its name. The celestial child on this float is a life-size puppet which can dance in a very life-like way.
岩戸山 IWATO YAMA
Instead of a halberd, a pine tree towers above this float, which is dedicated to “Amaterasu-omikami,” the sun goddess. The Japanese emperors are said to be descended from her. Iwato means “rock cave” in English. According to Japanese legend, the sun goddess hid inside a cave to show her anger with the other gods, and didn’t come out for a while. During this period, Japan became completely dark without sunshine.
船鉾 FUNE HOKO
This float is built in the shape of an ancient ship. According to a Japanese tale, this ship was used for carrying a Japanese empress named “Jingu Kogo”, who is still worshipped among women as the Goddess of safe delivery. This float is also very popular for its unique style and gorgeous carvings, which are located all over the central portion.
The main figures in the float are Empress Jingu Kogo and “Ryujin”, the God of Sea.
The Gion festival is still going on：）
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