2007/08/12

Itako Gion Matsuri Part II

A gathering of giants

We returned to Itako City late Sunday afternoon for part two of the three day festival and positioned ourselves not far from the train station where seven floats or "dashi" (thank you Moody) would gather after a long procession.
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Itako station's neon welcome sign - how "RETRO".

Gion Festivals have their origins in Kyoto and date back to 869 AD. That year, an epidemic swept through the city and people believed that it was a sign that the gods were angry. The festival was an attempt to appease them. Led by the priest of Yakasa shrine (also known as Gion), the procession was originally called "Gion Ceremony for the Holy Spirits". Today, many cities around Japan hold their own Gion Festivals.

Our timing was perfect, as the first of the dashi would come into view within minutes of our arrival. The streets were not over crowded, offering good views of the floats. Food stalls lined the sidewalks. Many people were dresses in hapi coats or yukata (the colorfully printed cotton garb for summer wear worn by both men and women).

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It was warm - around 30C (in the high 80's F), but cooling off a bit. Most folks had a "tenugui" (light cotton towel) draped around their neck (including me), and some had a fan as well.

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Festival officials led the parade with large chochin (paper lanterns).


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The dashi were pulled along with long ropes held by teams of all ages, starting with young folks like the ones above.


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Muscians on each dashi don't get a free ride - they play non-stop.


The people on the ropes did pull the floats along, but alot of the motive power can from a group of guys behind each float, pushing with all their might.

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The rear "engine" - pushing together and getting crushed together in the process.


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Atop each dashi is an image. Most are of famous mythological or historic figures. In this case, however, it is bales of rice with white mice on them. White mice are considered a sign of plentiful food.

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Mice and rice rhyme so nice. There's an easy poem in there for someone like Moody or Quasar9. All I came up with was a ribald limerick: "There once were two mice from Itako..." (Just kidding!)

As the floats approached us they slowed to a stop to wait their turn at parking in the area in front of the train station. This takes some time as the tall figures must first be lowered into the float and also because turning one of these dashi which weigh a few tons and have fixed wheels, is no easy task. The pause gave us a good chance to look over the dashi and gave the people moving them a well deserved break.
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The legendary "Nihon (or Yamato) Takeru no Mikoto", prince of the 12th Emperor of Japan. He was said to have been a brave general.

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The back of "Nihon (or Yamato) Takeru no Mikoto", with his quiver of arrows.

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Pausing to pose for a picture in front of their float.

Two large poles at the front of each float are used as brakes, like the one on your childhood "soap box" car. They are also used to steer.


Above: Dashi with Okuninushi no Mikoto (a god-Prince in Japanese mythology)

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This float depicts Honda Heihachiro Tadakatsu, a great general who was born in 1548 and served the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. I think he is supposed to be holding a pole weapon in his right hand, but it appears to be missing.

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Here is Emperor Jimmu (god-warrior) guided by his three-legged bird, Yatagarasu, he is the mythical founder of Japan said to have been born in 660 BCE.

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The Empress-regent Jingu Kogo born about 170 CE, she ruled Japan for 69 years and brought Korea under Japanese control.



Sanada Yukimura(1567-1615) - a famous samurai warrior and leader of the Sanada clan who fought against shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.


Dashi with Okuninushi no Mikoto being pushed toward the train station to join the others already parked there.


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Nihon Takeru no Mikoto and Jimmu

As darkness fell, the last of the floats was put into position. The participants gathered front of them for a traditional dance in the streets. My batteries were gone by this time and besides, it was too packed to get close enough or high enough for a good shot of the dancers, so we called it a day.

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(I see Honda Heihachiro Tadakatsu found his spear - they must have removed it earlier to get under telephone wires.) A throng of dancers among the dashi perform with the neon lights of Itako Eki (train station) as backdrop - ancient tradition in modern Japan.

9 comments:

Martin J Frid said...

Wonderful photos and great explanations! Thanks, I had no idea about this festival. Jimmu with the bird reminds me of the Nordic stories of Oden who also has birds as guides (they are called Hugin and Munin).

Pandabonium said...

Thanks Martin. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I owe much of the explanations to K as I didn't have a clue about who was depicted on these floats.
I've heard of Oden, of course, but didn't know about the birds. Interesting.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Cool! I've never gotten more than a fleeting glimpse of the Itako festival even though I lived in Itako for almost three years.

One might want to add that Emperor Jimmu is believed to have been the founder of Kashima Shrine.

According to the Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), there was a great war between the Yamato (Japanese), led by Jimmu, and the Ainu in what is now Itako. The Yamato won, and what is now south Ibaraki became the northern frontier of the Yamato Empire.

That is why the area is called "Itako". The kanji that they use now (潮来) mean "the tide comes" (tidewater?). However, I've heard from more than one source that the "ita" root comes from "itami" (痛み), meaning "pain". In other words, "Itako" means "place of pain", and it was named that because of the great war.

They aren't sure whether Emperor Jimmu really existed or not (probably not), but apparently the war really did take place, and Kashima Shrine was apparently founded as a direct result.

(Isn't it neat the way this all fits together?)

Pandabonium said...

Moody - thank you! I did not know any of that. It really is cool how these things dovetail. The festival was fun to watch too.

ladybug said...

Very Beautifl, I really love the lights at night!

I got some paper lanterns from Ikea for our Halloween party - I'm going to have a variety (not just Halloween themed), I just hope it doesn't rain!

PinkPanther said...

Learnt another history lesson & meaningful festival from“Pacific Islander"! Tks. PandaB.

It reminds me a great event takes in China every year which is
Floats in the parade, there are about four or five children, play all kinds of figures, standing up in the bamboo or wooden stand, below supported by adults and street parade, some children will be playing the ancient heroes, and some will play the role of current affairs.

Pandabonium said...

Ladybug - I've always liked paper lanterns of various types. As for rain, I've been to many bon dances in Hawaii where it rained and the lanterns were never a problem. But then it wasn't Oregon rain!

PinkPanther - thanks for the linked picture, very pretty. I always enjoy local festivals and parades. Of course, many of those kinds of things which take place in Japan have origins in China.

QUASAR9 said...

Funny thing is, in diversity there is homogeneity, reminds of carnaval floats and the fallas in Valencia (Spain).

Las Fallas literally means "the fires" in Valencian. The focus of the fiesta is the creation and destruction of ninots--huge cardboard, wood and plaster statues--that are placed at over 350 key intersections and parks around the city today. The ninots are extremely lifelike and usually depict bawdy, satirical scenes and current events (lampooning corrupt politicians and Spanish celebrities is particularly popular).

Swinebread said...

Great Floats, great fun! I hope the pullers and pushers don't throw out their backs! :)


I hope our own rose festival would just as great in 1111 years