Gion Festival

November 24, 2019

by  Momoyo Matsuoka, Yumika Yamaguchi and Momoka Yamada

Gion Festival

Japan has a lot of traditional and local festivals. For example, the Aomori Nebuta festival and Sapporo Snow festival are world-famous and well-known. Many foreign tourists actually enjoy the festivals to get in touch with Japanese culture. However, according to a survey by a travel company, the Gion festival is the most famous one for foreign people. They are fascinated with the powerful performance, and gorgeous festival floats and mikoshi; a small and portable shrine that is believed to house gods. In 2017, about 1,800,000 people came to the Gion festival in all.

What is “Gion festival”?

Gion festival is a local festival, which is held in Kyoto from July 1st to 31st. In Japan, it is one of three biggest festivals, along with the Tenjin festival (Osaka) and Kanda festival (Tokyo). The Gion festival has a very long history and it is known as the large-scale festival because it is held for one month.

History of Gion Festival

 

Over 1100 years ago, in 869, an epidemic spread in Kyoto, and there were countless sick people and deaths among the public. People believed this must have been a curse by the god, called Emperor Gozu, so in order to put down this disturbance, they had deep faith in Gion-sha; the old name of Yasaka shrine. Then, they made 66 Hoko at Shinsen-en and held Gion Goryo-e to pray for the disappearance of disease. Hoko is a long-handled spear or pike with two blades, set at right angles, which was used from Yayoi Era (5th century B.C.- 3rd century A.D.) to Kohun Era (the middle of 3rd century A.D.- around 7th century A.D.) That was the beginning of Gion festival. After that, the name of the festival Gion Goryo-e was shortened to Gion-e. At first, it was held only when an epidemic was spreading, so it was an irregular festival. However, it has been held every June 14th from the first year of the Genroku Era (970). According to historical records, Gion-e died out temporarily during the Hogen revolt and Heiji revolt, but it revived in Muromachi Era (1336-1573). After that, because of Ounin revolt and Bunmei revolt, Gion-e almost died out again, but a lot of people had passion for Gion-e. Therefore, in June in 1500, people made a tour of around Yasaka shrine with 26 festival floats From that time, the festival became more gregarious, and people had a strong passion for continuation of the festival. From the Momoyama Era (1568-1598) to the Edo Era (1603-1867), Japan started promoting trade with other countries, and textiles, including Gobelin (originally a French textile company) and Nishijin (the textiles produced in the Kamigyo-ku area of Kyoto) were used in Japan. From that time, the shape of festival floats changed into the current shape with gorgeous decorations. As you may know, the Gion festival has a long, long history of more than 1000 years, and it has been associated with the history of Kyoto.

The Big Event

 

The Gion festival has a lot of ritual events. Especially, Yamaboko Junko is the main event: the processions of festival cars. It takes place between 9:00 and 11:30 a.m. The first half of the festival is called Saki Matsuri, which is held on July 17. The procession route is from Shijo Karasuma to Shinmachi Oike. On the other hand, the last half of the festival is called Ato Matsuri, which is held on July 24. The route of this day is from Karasuma Oike to Shijo Karasuma. On the Saki Matsuri, 23 festival floats go around Yasaka shrine. In contrast, 10 festival floats go in procession on Ato Matsuri. There are some kinds of paid seats, so if you would like to watch the processions at the best place, we recommend you buy the ticket for paid seats on the Internet. In addition, you can listen to the information of Gion festival by tourism guide through your seat’s headphones provided with your ticket. Therefore, you will enjoy both seeing the processions and listening to the information.

Other Popular Events Included in Gion Festival

 

From July 10 to 14 and from the 18 to the 21, the festival floats for Yamaboko Junko  (grand procession) are assembled in a traditional way, and you can watch that process. The way of assembling the festival floats varies from city to city, and each city has original shapes of floats. Another ceremony to watch is the Mikoshi Arai, which is held on July 10  and the 28th: this is the washing of the mikoshi (portable shrine) using water from the Kamogawa River. It is the most important ritual ceremony. If you want to watch it, you should go to Shijo-ohashi Bridge at around 6:00 p.m  on July 10 or the 28th.

The most popular event is Yoiyama. It is held twice, from the 14th to the 16th and from the 21st to the 23rd. At Yoiyama, all of the floats are lit up in the evening. With lightening the floats up, Gion Bayashi is played: people play with musical instruments such as flutes, drums, and bells on the floats. It is a very beautiful event, so many tourists come to watch it. In 2017, more than 320,000 people came to see Yoiyama. During Yoiyama (on the 15th and 16th), Shijo Street and Karasuma Street are kept completely free of cars. There are also a lot of refreshment and souvenir stands along Karasuma Street, Muromachi Street, and Shinmachi Street.

 

 

Access

 

If you go to enjoy the Gion festival, the access is below:

From Kyoto Station, you can take a taxi or bus to Shijo Street or Yasaka shrine.

Bus:

No. 206 bus goes to Gion, so you can get off there. It takes about 15 minutes to get there from Kyoto Station to Gion.

Train:

Keihan Electric Railway: get off at Gion Shijo Station and walk about a minute.

Hankyu Railway: get off at Kawaramachi Station and walk about 5 minutes.

The area around Gion is crowded with many tourists during the Gion festival season. Therefore, coming by car is not recommended, and there is no parking area for this festival.

The Gion festival has been designed as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property from 1979. In addition to this, it was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Property in 2009. Gion festival has become more and more noticeable. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of tourists will come to watch Gion Festival this year. Therefore, everyone should follow the rules, and we hope you enjoy Gion Festival!

Great Bread around Karasuma Station

by Kensei Iizuka, Yuta Kobayashi and Takanori Tsuhako

As you know, Kyoto has a lot of traditional Japanese food that is popular with tourists. However, do you know that bread is really popular with people in Kyoto? In fact, bread consumption in Kyoto is No.1 in Japan. The reason why bread is so popular in Kyoto is due to its connection with craftsmen. There are a lot of busy craftsmen in Kyoto and bread is really easy for them to eat when they are working. In this article, we are going to introduce some great bakeries near Karasuma Station. This area is really flourishing so you can find not only bakeries but also many nice shops such as souvenir shops, clothing store and so on. Enjoy the metropolitan side of Kyoto and great local bread in this area.

Sizuya

 

 

Sizuya is a famous bakery, which since 1948, has captured the hearts of Kyoto residents. Anyone who was born or grew up in Kyoto can’t but love their bread. There are 22 locations in Kyoto prefecture and the site that we visited this time is located in Shijo-Karasuma in the very heart of the city. This shop is very accessible as it is inside Shijo-Karasuma Station, and you can find it quickly as soon as you exit from the ticket gates. The most famous bread in Sizuya is the Karne -a sandwich with ham, fresh onion and soft margarine. It is very simple but delicious.

Shinshindo

 

 

Shinshindo is known as a bakery pioneer in Kyoto. It was established in 1913, making it 35 years older than Sizuya and the oldest bakery in Kyoto. There are 12 locations in Kyoto; however, some stores don’t just sell bread. Some have a restaurant where you can enjoy lunch or dinner, and others have a coffee shop inside where you can enjoy super fresh bread and excellent coffee. You can walk there in about 5 minutes from Hankyu-Karasuma Station, so you can take a break and enjoy great bread and coffee before or after exploring Shijo. The most popular bread in Shinshindo is said to be their rich buttery croissant. Outside is very crunchy and the inside is super soft. The beautiful flavor of the butter spreads out in your mouth as soon as you bite it. It must be one of the best croissants in Kyoto.

 

Grandir Kyoto


 

This bakery has a cool and trendy appearance with a simple black exterior, and inside there is a wide range of bread on display. Grandir Kyoto opened about 30 years ago and specializes in bagels and panini. People who want to eat a nice bagel or fresh panini should visit there. There are 5 locations in Kyoto and also 3 locations in Nagoya. The shop that we visited is near Kyoto-Shiyakusho-Mae Station (Subway- Tozai Line) and is easy to get to from Kawaramachi or Karasuma. When you open the stylish door and go in, you are surrounded by the pleasant smell of fresh bread. You can choose from a lot of different kinds of bagels as you can see in the photo: cocoa, cream cheese and so on. Just picking which bagel you want is fun. You can also order fresh paninis which the shop staff make to order in front of you. So, you can enjoy a really tasty fresh panini there.

 

Kin-iro Kyoto

Kin-iro Kyoto, was launched just recently in April 2018. It is getting a lot of attention from young people. There are only two kinds of bread, both of which are cream buns. One is called kin-iro which has rich cream and plenty of Canadian honey. It looks really gorgeous because it is decorated with pieces of gold leaf on the top. The other cream bun is called kuro-iro. Kuro means “black” in Japanese, so it is a black cream bun with cacao and coffee in the bread dough. Inside of the bun, you can taste Guatemala coffee’s honey in the custard and cream made from high-class eggs from Oita prefecture. The harmonization of the bread dough made by cocoa and coffee with the rich cream will blow your tongue away!

Kyoto Bakery Market

This bakery is perfect for people who are downtown shopping and don’t want to walk around too much just to find some decent bread. It is on the 7th floor of Marui Department Store near Kawaramachi Station (Hankyu-Kyoto Line). The best thing about this store is that you can find a selection of great bread from various bakeries in Kyoto. You don’t need to spend time and energy going to each bakery to sample their speciality bread. Also, you can take a break and have a coffee in the rest area attached to the bakery. In other words, here is like a culmination of what Kyoto’s bakeries have to offer.

【Information for Sizuya】

Sizuya is in front of the subway ticket gates in Shijo Station. You can also easily access it from Karasuma Station on the Hankyu Railway. The ticket gates are on the lower basement floor. If you come from the ground level, please take the stairs or escalator down. The opening hours are from 7:30am to 9:00pm, and they are closed on January 1st.

【Information for Shinshindo】

You can walk to Shinshindo in about 5 minutes from either Karasuma Station or Shijo Station heading north-east. Diagonally opposite, there is a park that has a playground. Shinshindo has lovely trees and plants, so you can easily find it. Opening hours are 7:30am to 8:00pm. The days when the bakery is closed varies.

【Information for Grandir Kyoto】

Grandir Kyoto is a smaller bakery than others. The closest station is Kyoto Shiyakusyo Mae (Kyoto City Hall) Station; however, you can walk from Kawaramachi. If you go there from Kawaramachi, please head north. It’s about a 15-minute walk. This bakery is next to Kyoto City Hall. You will see bicycles parked in front of the bakery. The opening hours are 8:00am to 7:00pm. The days when the bakery is closed varies.

【Information for Kin-iro Kyoto】

Kin-iro Kyoto is on Sanjo Street. You can walk from Kyoto Shiyakusyo Mae (Kyoto City Hall) Station (10-minute walk) or Kawaramachi Station and Karasuma Station (15-minute walk). The bakery doesn’t have any space to eat inside. The opening hours are 11:00am to 7:00pm. The bakery is closed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

【Information for Kyoto Bakery Market】

Go to the 7th floor in Marui Department Store, which is on Shijo Street opposite the Disney Store. There are lots of tables and chairs where you can eat. If you are tired of shopping, you can take a rest here. Opening hours are 11:00am to 8:00pm. The bakery is closed when Marui is closed.

 

 

Kyoto’s Historical Boulevard

by Takumi Abe

Many people who visit Kyoto want to seeonly  Kiyomizu temple, Kinkakuji temple or the Ryoanji rock garden. However, when most people first arrive in Kyoto, they will see the Kyoto Tower and a wide avenue going to the north. This street has many cars, taxis and buses. Its name is Karasuma-dori, and its length is six kilometers. Karasuma street is an important and central street in Kyoto, so there are many business buildings and some temples along it.  In addition, two universities are located on Karasuma, and the Kyoto Imperial Palace flanks the avenue as well. It is an important street especially from the views of the economy, education and Japanese history.

Karasuma from 794

Kyoto city has prospered for about 1200 years so many streets in Kyoto have a long history. If you walk down Karasuma street, you can see buildings from various eras. Karasuma was constructed in the Heian period (794-1185). At that time, this road was called Karasumaru-koji street. “Koji” means small road. This street was named after a family of Heian-period aristocrats. Karasuma has been significant because among the many Fujiwara families it was the largest area where Heian aristocrats lived. The street flourished,  but it fell into ruinduring the civil war in Medieval times. After this period of battles, the street was revived by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Due to his project, the street had many upper-class mansions, houses and stores. In  the Meiji period (1868-1912),  one of the modern Japanese periods, Kyoto Station was built at the south end of Karasuma street. As a result, this street was expanded and extended to all the way to northern Kyoto. At the same time, a streetcar started to run along the street. Today, Karasuma is in the central business district, where there are many banks and companies. Additionally, it is a gateway to Kyoto for people from various countries first arriving at Kyoto Station.

 

The gateway of Kyoto

What you can see on Karasuma

Shijo Karasuma

Shijo-Karasuma is one of the big commercial areas in the city. Many banks and insurance companies are located here. You can see the modern Japanese architecture and a long history. On the left side of the above photo of Shijo -Karasuma is the Mitsui building. This entrance was created in 1941.

Cocon Karasuma

Doshisha University

Cocon Karasuma is a commercial complex and office building. You may be fascinated by the arabesque pattern on the wall. This building was constructed in 1938, and it was recently renovated. It was not exposed the fires of war, so you can see the old-style stairs and floors inside. “Cocon,” in Japanese means both ancient and modern, so this amazing building shows the past  and the present in Kyoto.

If you continue much further north on Karasuma you will come to Doshisha University. This university was founded in 1875, and now about 27,000 students go to this school. It was established by Jyo Nijima. He was the first Japanese person to graduate from a university in the USA. He opened the door to modern education in Japan.

Toraya

If you want to eat Japanese sweets, I recommend that you go to Toraya. It has a long history, and this store has been around for nearly five centuries. From the days of old, this store made sweets for the Emperor. Its famous itme is Azuki-bean jelly. It has been loved for more than 500 years. Is is on Karasuma just southwest of Doshisha University.

Traditional culture inJapan is not only concerned with food, but there is also kadou or literally “the way of flowers”. Kadou is arranging flowers beautifully. It represents and expresses the beauty of Japan. Kadou was formed in the Muromachi era (1336-1573). It is said that it originated at the pond of Rokkakuji temple. This temple is crowded with tourists. Next to it on Karasuma is the headquarters of the Ikenobo School of Flower arrangement.

Manga museum

Moreover, people who love Japanese culture had better go to the Manga museum, which is nearby the Oike-Karasuma intersection. As the name indicates, this museum keeps more 30 thousand manga. You can read manga in the museum or in its garden. The Giga-Ukiyoe, which is a collection of funny pictures and was printed in the Edo era (1603-1867), is in the collection of the museum. Moreover, some manga housed here are from overseas. The amazing thing is that this building has been used since 1929. it used to be an elementary school, therefore you can see also the old style of Japanese school.

The street as a face of Kyoto

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Karasuma street has a long history. It is rare that you can see a story that is 1200 years long. This place has faces of traditional Japan, modern Japan and present-day Japan. You can feel a Japanese passion to create the city, protect its heritage, and reinvigorate its culture.  The street is bustling with university students and some of its cafés are filled with young power. What is more, many workers use the street to find lunch or dinner, or go shopping. In  old times, there were many people riding in a carriage or walking in kimono. Suppose you come to Karasuma—you may feel the history of Japan.

 

Live house

by Tomomi Nakashima

There are a lot of ways to enjoy the nighttime in Kyoto, and I think one of the best ways is with… music! If you want to experience a variety of musical tastes by artists who have their base in Kyoto, take my advice and follow these directions.

Take a Karasuma Line subway train bound for Kokusaikaikan, and get off the train at Imadegawa station. Leave the station through either exit 4 or 6 and walk in a westerly direction along the south side of Imadegawa Street for about one and a half minutes. Here you will find the sign for BACKBEAT. Head down the brick lined narrow staircase and open the door. You are now at a real Kyoto live house!

As this venue is located in a basement, there is a kind of authentic, underground music feel to the place. On the bend of the stairs outside, you can see announcements for the event that will be held that night and also some fliers detailing artists who usually perform here.
Almost with your first step into BACKBEAT, you are at the bar counter where the manager will invariably be waiting to serve you personally. The room is decorated with leis, neon signs and many pictures of the sea, because the manager has a real fondness for Hawaii. The sound system is located directly next to the bar, and there are a variety of old posters on the wall celebrating coca-cola, etc, as well as CD jackets for most of the legendary Beatles albums. On the far side of the room from the door is the stage, the focal point of the place.


In this live house, just about anybody can perform on stage because the concept of the live house is “free”. In any given month, most days are pre-booked for “lives”, which means some artists have made bookings in advance and have been given a time to perform. However, some days are reserved for “Acoustic Tobiiri Day” which means artists can play without a booking in a kind of “open mic” set up. Many of the performers at these events play songs on acoustic guitars, but they present a surprisingly unusual and eclectic mix of styles! Some play songs composed by professional artists but with their own arrangements, others play original songs with heart-warming lyrics, and then there are those who play guitar only, often showing great technique. It’s not only about the music though, as there are also plays, original movies and traditional and modern arts showcased here from time to time.

Message from the manager of BACKBEAT:

I used to belong to a band when I was at university. It was tough to get a booking to perform in places then because there were a lot of bands around. There was real competition between bands to see who could get the biggest audience, capture the hearts of the audience with their songs, give them a good time and also enjoy performing for themselves! Now I recognize what music means to me, and really enjoy it with a lot of people in HAKO (BACKBEAT).Of course, I manage the place, but it’s not really only mine. The atmosphere here can change daily according to the artists who are performing on that day. What I want to do is make this live house somewhere for everyone, artists and audience alike.

So, how do you feel about spending a night at this “live house”? If you want to be in the audience or even fancy performing on stage, please go back to the beginning of this article and review how to get there. You can also access the BACKBEAT homepage to get further information about the location and the live entertainment schedule. Rock on Kyoto!!