You hear about the New Yorkers who have never been to the Empire State Building. Possibly my parents fell into that category. And even though I live in Amherst, famous for being the home of Emily Dickinson, it took years before I visited her home/museum, and then just once was enough.
This month there is a very famous festival in Kyoto called Gion Matsuri. It is literally celebrated the whole month with the highlight being a procession of floats held on July 17. On the two nights before the 17th, downtown Kyoto becomes something of a street fair and if you’re young, you do want a date for that night. Girls and boys alike will be wearing yukata. The procession is certainly worth seeing. Ikkai dake desu. It will be hot as hell and humid as hell and crowded as hell. Total jigoku. I know I went at least once or twice… and then I know I skipped it, unless I had a visiter who had come especially to see it. I do love the accompanying hayashi that is played and just the sound of it makes me smile.
I am a reader of a bulogu that is written by a grouchy old Japanese man who is a native of Kyoto. Kinō he wrote that he would not be going to see the procession and rather testily said that the natives of Kyoto didn’t go because most Kyoto-ites only attend their kinjō festivities. Neighborhoods are of utmost important in Kyoto. There will be neighborhood jinja and otera for your everyday needs. (Of course there are also some famous places for specific and special needs; if you are taking a college entrance exam, you’d want to pray at Kitano Tenmangu.) But basically, he says, the festival is for both Japanese and foreign tourists at this point, unless you’re one of the neighborhood folks who hold it.
So, if I was in Kyoto, this year, would I go to Gion Matsuri? To be very honest, unless the weather felt much much cooler than usual, I would not. But during the month of July I’d be sure to walk through the back streets where preparations were being made and catch some of that action. The back streets of Kyoto are where all the good stuff happens!
- Gion Matsuri – 祇園祭 One of the three big festivals that happens in Kyoto. This is a summer festival. Google it.
- yukata – 浴衣 cotton kimono that is worn in the summer or for sleeping
- Ikkai dake desu – 一回だけです “Just once.” or “I’ll do it just once.”
- jigoku – 地獄 hell
- hayashi はやし – the flutes, drums and bells of Gion Festival
- bulogu – ブログ blog
- kinō – 昨日yesterday
- kinjo – 近所 neighborhood
- jinja – 神社 Shinto shrine
- otera – お寺 Buddhist temple, i.e. don’t use this word for a synagogue.