Gion-matsuri is a magnificent and splendid festival that has been held by Yasaka-jinja for the past one thousand one hundred years. In earlier days, this festival was called Gion-goryoe (*1);
it began in AD 869 (Jogan 11th year) when the plague raged through not only Kyoto but all of Japan.
Thinking that the disaster had been caused by the curse of Gozu-Tennou, the people of Kyoto attempted to appease the god of Gion and pray for deliverance from the disaster by building 66 Hokos (*2) in Shinsen-en, a vast garden in Heian-kyo, and carrying around a portable shrine.
The number 66 represents the number of Japanese provinces in those days.
The month-long Gion Matsuri begins at Kippu-iri (*3) on July 1 and ends at Eki-jinja-nagoshi-sai (*4). During this one-month period, various religious services and events are unfolded.
- (*1) Goryoue refers to a ritual of prayer held to soothe the curse of the vengeful ghosts.
- (*2) Hoko signifies a type of spear but was originally used to refer to a stick with a sharp end. In those days, people believed that spirits could easily dwell in the Hoko. Therefore, in ancient days, people sometimes released the Hokos possesed by evil spirits onto rivers.
- (*3) Kippu-iri refers to the beginning of the religious services. In each neighborhood association that participated in the festival of towing Yama or Hoko, the people involved held meetings to make various arrangements for the festival.
- (*4) Eki-jinja is a small shrine located in the precincts of Yasaka-jinja.
Nagoshi-harae is a shinto religious ceremony in summertime held to pray for the healthy life of the remaining six months of the year, which is usually taken place on June 30 in other shrines.