Artwork out of the Showcase

October 22, 2013

The origin and ornaments of a Gion-festival float, Tsuki-hoko


Tsuki-hoko parading magnificently (provided by Kyoto Design)

by Airi Kinoshita

A splendid view unfolds before your eyes; fantastic floats with marvelous ornamentation follow one after another. Musicians in identical yukata are riding on these floats and playing traditional music with flutes and drums. Cheers go up from the crowd for sturdy men dripping sweat and moving the floats forward. Excitement of the people has been rising since the previous night event, and the hot, sultry air fills the streets.

This is the Yamaboko parade, the highlight of Gion matsuri which is one of Japan’s grandest festivals held on July 17. The festival was first celebrated in 869, according to Gion-sha honnennroku (Chronicle of Gion Shine), the oldest record that mentions the festival. The purpose of the Gion matsuri was to appease the vengeful spirits who people believed had spread a plague over the city.

  It was the very end of 10th century when the first float was introduced to Gion festival by a street performer named Mukotsu and took around the city. Then, shopkeepers who lived in central Kyoto became involved in the festival. The shopkeepers rivaled each other in creating gigantic and marvelous floats, which are called hoko after ornament of hoko (pike) attached on the floats’ roof. Smaller-size floats are called yama, and these two types of floats are called Yamaboko altogether. Today 32 Yamaboko exist. In 14th century many imported goods entered Japan through trade with China and Portugal, and Yamaboko came to be decorated with carpets or tapestries made in Persia, Belgium, India, and China.

 Among fine, magnificent floats, the Tsuki (moon)-boko is considered to be the most luxurious and magnificent. The reason why it is named “Tsuki” is that this float enshrines Tsukuyomi, a Shinto spirit which is symbolic of moon and water (each float enshrines different spirits or heroes). Hence you often notice that lots of adornments related to moon or water are used in the body. Not only Tsuki-hoko weights and is tall the most among all the floats, its adornments cost more than that of any other floats. Therefore the float is well known as ‘moving art museum’.

Let us see the exhibits of the ‘museum’. Most of them were made by distinguished artists in the Edo-period (1603-1867). For example, Souranreiju-shishu (fabulous creatures-embroidery) and Reimei-zu (picture of dawn) are fair textiles hung over the side of the hoko. Souranreiju-shishu was designed by Oshin Matsuyama, on which a phoenix and an enormous beast are silhouetted down to a feather or a hair. Reimei-zu made by Gekka Minagawa delicately represents a graceful scene surrounded with hollyhocks, where birds enjoy themselves on a lakeside. On the ceiling you will find Genji Senmen Sanzu (scattered arts of Genji story). 54 folding fans with small pictures are painted on a field of gold leaf and each of the pictures show chapters of Genji story, a romance set in Japanese aristocracy written about 1000 years ago. The posts holding up the roof are decorated with fancy metal sculptures created by Kannuemon Okazariya. The sculptures cleverly shaped into bivalves, spiral shells, or sea urchins shine on the lacquered posts reflecting the sun. Some ornaments might be difficult to see on the parade, so you’d better visit the hoko the previous night when it is open to people, then you will get a closer look at the craftsmanship.    

 Now 29 of 32 floats are registered as important cultural properties in Japan, and Yamaboko parade itself is also registered on UNESCO’s World Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Shijo-street and Karasuma-street are closed to traffic from 6:00 to11:00 p.m. for three days before the parade, and the downtown bustles with people looking in at night stalls one after another and go away. Why don’t you go to the grand festival and enjoy yourself in a circus atmosphere?




Bridges of Kamogawa River

by Mirai Ikei

The bridges along the Kamogawa River

The bridges along the Kamogawa River

A Special River in Kyoto

The Kamogawa River is the fourth longest river in Kyoto and its source is the 895.8 meter high Mount Sajigatake (located in the northern part of Kyoto). It runs from north-eastern Kyoto and flows down south-west to Katsuragawa River. It is about 33 kilometers long and the basin is about 208 square meters in area. The water is used for both agriculture and industry. A section of the water flows into Kamigamo-Jinja Shrine and is turned into sacred water. People in Kyoto have used the water from the Kamogawa River for a long time.

Five Bridges on the Kamogawa River

In this article, you will find out about five special bridges: Marutamachi-bashi Bridge, Nijo Ohashi Bridge, Sanjo Ohashi Bridge, Shijo Ohashi Bridge and Nanajo Ohashi Bridge, on the Kamogawa River. Can you imagine that you are now walking beside the Kamogawa River in fine weather, such as warm sunshine and soft breezes? The goal will be Nanajo Ohashi Bridge, near KyotoTower.


We are starting off from Marutamachi-bashi Bridge. The Kamogawa River was known for flooding repeatedly in olden times. In those times it was called ‘Abare-Gawa’. Here, on the site of of today’s Marutamachi-bashi Bridge, people built a wooden bridge and crossed the overflowing river. Walking down from Marutamachi-bashi Bridge, you will see Kyoto Gyoen National Garden, which includes court nobles’ houses and gardens, lots of trees, and many people having a rest in such a peaceful place.

Nijo Ohashi

The Misosogigawa

The Misosogigawa

Go down from Marutamachi-bashi Bridge for about 500m, and you will see the next bridge, Nijo-Ohashi Bridge. The Misosogigawa is an artificial watercourse which is located to the west of Nijo Ohashi Bridge. Famous cooling off places along the way are ‘Noryo Yuka’, which are wooden terraces connected to restaurants, where you can eat traditional dishes. People can go there and enjoy their meal in a little more luxury than usual during the summertime. (They are open from the beginning of May to the end of September.) Apart from the Noryo Yuka, let’s have a closer look at Nijo Ohashi Bridge.


Stepping stones across the river

In the past, there was no bridge at Nijo Ohashi. The place was once the site of a battle. A defeated general had his head cut off and his neck was kept on public display with a bulletin board. (The victor was making an impact on people by doing this.) This place is also known for a famous notice board which was written by people who complained about the chaotic government. There are stepping stones across the river. The stones are shaped as plovers, turtles or ships. It is fun to try to cross the river by hopping on the stones.

Sanjo Ohashi

Sanjo Ohashi Bridge

Sanjo Ohashi Bridge

Now we pass Oike Ohashi Bridge and onto the next bridge, Sanjo Ohashi Bridge. Beloved by Kyoto people, it was built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi (a famous general in the Sengoku era [16th century]). Have you ever read the funny story ‘Tokaidochu Hizakurige’ written by Jippensha Ikku? The Sanjo Ohashi Bridge is the start point of the western part of Tokaido Gojusantsugi which are the 53 post stations of the Tokaido. (The Tokaido was one of the five highways in the Edo era [1600-])

Yaji-san and Kita-san

Yaji-san and Kita-san

There are two statues of Yaji-san, and Kita-san who are the main characters from ‘Tokaidochu Hizakurige’ near the bridge. Besides these ‘Yaji-Kita Statues’, there is a stone, called ‘Nade Ishi’. People who stroke the stone will find good fortune. Let’s walk across the bridge and experience the feeling of standing at the crossroads of people’s lives in old Kyoto city.

Shijo Ohashi



The fourth bridge is called Shijo Ohashi Bridge. Everyone must have walked across this bridge when they visited Kyoto. It functions as an entrance to downtown Shijo Kawaramachi. There is one practice hall for Maiko and Geiko at Pontocho Street. In May, the event ‘Kamogawa Odori’ (traditional dance performance by Maiko and Geiko) is held. Their performance is so beautiful, like a dream. If you walk down east a little more, you will see Yasaka Jinja Shrine. It is a major sacred place of the Gion Matsuri which is a famous festival held every July. Yasaka Jinja Shrine is also famous as a place which is used for other important rituals – people grieved here and held memorial services for those who had died of plague because of the repeated floods. We could say that Shijo Ohashi is a bridge that connects people who are alive and the spirits of people passed away.

Nanajo Ohashi.. and five more

Finally, we will talk about the last bridge, Nanajo Ohashi Bridge. Before starting this, I want to tell you, briefly, about five more bridges which we have been skipping.

Oike Ohashi: built in 1964

Oike-dori is the street which connects Shinsen-en Temple. In the past, the pond of Shinsen-en Temple never ran dry so people called it Oike. (In Japanese, Oike means a ‘Great-pond’.)

Donguribashi: built in 1963

This bridge’s name originates from a big chestnut (a chestnut means ‘donguri’) tree. The Ayu-fishing begins in July.

Matsubara-bashi: built in 1959

Benkei and Ushiwakamaru

Benkei and Ushiwakamaru

Originally, here was the ‘Gojo Ohashi’ which was moved south by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. In the Heian-Era (about A.C.794-1192), it was called Gojo Dori where the Matsubara-bashi is located today.

Gojo Ohashi: built in 1959

The place of the famous episode of Ushiwakamaru (Yoshitsune Minamoto’s childhood name) and Benkei (followed Yoshitsune after this battle)

Shomen-bashi: built in 1952

The name came from the street, Shomen Dori, which is located in front of the Daibutsu-den (Great Buddha Hall) of Hoko-ji Temple. (By Hideyoshi Toyotomi)

*all of the years indicate the latest year of rebuilding

'Secession' style. A pattern with arrow motifs

'Secession' style. A pattern with arrow motifs

Shall we go back to the story of Nanajo Ohashi Bridge? Nanajo Ohashi is the oldest of all of the bridges on the Kamogawa River. It dates from 1913. It has been renewed once and the design of the handrail is based on Sanjusangen-do Temple’s first ‘bow-pulling’ of the year. If you walk down south a bit more from here, you will see Kyoto Tower, one of the most popular tourist spots in Kyoto.

Our Suggestions

Now, we have talked to you mostly about our favorite bridges. Thank you for reading to the end. Lastly, we have a few suggestions for you before you start your own exploring. Here you go:

Mind the birds!

Mind the birds!

  1. Please look at the nature beside the river.
  2. Get some background information before going. It will make your walk more fun!
  3. Mind black kites, the birds flying over your head. They might snatch your lunch from you. One of us lost his lunch after just one bite.


Santuário Xintoísta Yasaka

by Chihiro Udono; Akiko Gomi

Na zona leste de Kyoto, podemos encontrar o santuário xintoísta Yasaka. É conhecido pelo apelido de “Gion-san”, pois fica em Gion, bairro das gueixas. Ao visitar Kyoto, não podemos deixar de visitar Yasaka porque nos arredores deste santuário, há muitos lugares onde sentimos a atmosfera de Kyoto.

Neste santuário, deuses do xintoísmo são celebrados. Dizem que o deus principal daqui, “Susanô no mikoto”, é o protetor da agricultura e da saúde. Além disso, ele traz a paz ao país, sucesso nos estudos, laços de amor e prosperidade no comércio.

A religião xintoísta está bem arraigada entre os japoneses. Vou apresentar alguns costumes xintoísmos que encontramos neste santuário.

Esta família veio para o“miyamairi”,
um costume japonês de visita o santuário da sua terra natal. Quando chega o 31º dia do nascimento do filho e 33ºdia do nascimento da filha, visita-se o santuário para mostrar o bebê ao deus da sua terra natal. Quase todos os japoneses fazem esta visita. Bem parecido com o batizado, mas a diferença é que o “miyamairi”não pressupõe que a criança seja fiel à religião durante a sua vida.
E este é o casamento à moda xintoísta. Às vezes podemos ver o casamento celebrado desta maneira. Aqui no Yasaka, a mulher do deus Susanô também é celebrada. Portanto, muitos casais se casam aqui.

Como o“Susanô” é o deus da saúde, originalmente, este santuário foi construído para exterminar a epidemia da peste. A sua festa é muito famosa no Japão. Chama-se“Gion matsuri”( Festival de Guion). Começa em 1 de julho e acaba no dia 31. Esta festa é para tranquilizar os espíritos das trevas. Outro festival é o “Okera Matsuri”no fim e no começo do ano também para desejar boa saúde.

Essas festas existem há mais de 1100 anos. Os deuses de Yasaka tem protegido a nossa saúde por muito tempo.
Se for ao santuário Yasaka, poderá aproveitar para esticar o passeio. A leste, encontrará o Parque de Maruyama, famoso na primavera pela bela e imponente cerejeira. Ao sul, há o templo de Kiyomizu, também recomendado para visita.

Acesso para YASAKA: descer na“Estação de Hankyu Kawaramachi”e andar cerca de 10 minutos na direção leste.
*Se for da Estção JR Kyoto, pegar o ônibus número 206. Descer no ponto de “Gion”. Leva mais ou menos 20 minutos.