Kyoto’s Festival of the Ages/時代祭り

I meant to post about this earlier last month, in case anyone was planning to be in Kyoto for the annual Jidai Matsuri on 22 October. I had too much going on, though, so I’m blogging it now. Then I can’t forget to do it next year!

We were in Kyoto in October 2010, to celebrate my 40th birthday. As part of our trip, we decided to go to the fire festival at Kurama. Before we headed off to catch the train up into the mountains, though, we took a stroll along Karasuma Dori from our apartment so that we could see some of the Jidai Matsuri.

The parade starts at the Imperial Palace in the Gosho and makes its way through town to Heian Shrine. October 22 is the anniversary of the founding of Kyoto in 794. Around 2000 people take part in the parade, dressed in costume and grouped into various eras from Kyoto’s history. Each era is further separated into themes. The parade starts with the Meiji Restoration and works backwards to the Heian Era. It apparently takes the entire parade of people 1 hour to pass through a static spot along the route. I don’t know if this is true, because we were there for around 90 minutes and it was still going strong when we left. I think that we saw the end of the section depicting the Edo era, as there were a number of samurai and shogun in the parade, and part of the Muromachi period, as we definitely saw Oda Nobunaga.

We didn’t think we would be disciplined enough to get out of the apartment and to the Gosho to find a good vantage point to see the parade set off, though, so we decided to try to view the parade from the side of the road and watch as the costumed citizens of Kyoto strolled past in the sunshine, so that we would be close to Imadegawa Dori, to get to Demachiyanagi station for our trip to Kurama.

At first we were on the wrong side of the road, and had to take our chances taking photographs across the traffic. We saw men in court costume on horseback, followed by more men on foot, either in robes and straw hats like advisors, or carrying banners and tokens on long poles.

We also saw women dressed up in Heian Court costume. It was quite a warm day, and they must have felt very warm under all their layers of clothing, not to mention the wigs and the makeup. Some had to walk, while others were carried on palanquins. None of them smiled, so we couldn’t see whether they had also blackened their teeth in the style of the time.

 

My husband had bought me a woodblock print for our wedding anniversary that year, and the people in the parade made me think of that. Particularly the men carrying the tokens on poles.

Another thing we saw was a highly decorated wagon. It didn’t seem to be a mikoshi, so perhaps it was a wagon carrying rice.

After a short time trying to time the click of the shutter with the movement of the traffic, we realised that we could cross Karasuma Dori at Ebisugawa Dori. The view on the other side of the road was much better. On this side of the road, we mostly saw samurai and shoguns, fully armoured up on horseback and accompanied by foot soldiers with bows and arrows, rifles and swords.

There were a few fancy helmets on display, but these were my favourites (that’s Oda Nobunaga in the second picture below – he seemed too cheery to have made as many enemies as history tells us he had).

 

 

One of the attendants was a very cute little boy. Everybody wanted to take his photograph, and there was much cooing from the obaasan at the side of the road as he paused in front of us.

Lots of people were watching on this side of the road, mostly older people but also some school groups. Some of the men on foot in the parade were teasing the schoolgirls, who screamed and giggled to the delight of their tormentors! The main tormentors were the men in grey in the photograph below.

 

There was one young man carrying an ornate token on a pole, made up of lots of golden spheres. I captured the moment when a bus passed by on the other side of the road and he wistfully watched its progress. Perhaps his arms and legs had had enough already and he was wishing he could take the bus to Heian Shrine!

It was a fun thing to do, on our way to our evening of terror on Kurama mountain. I’d also like to see the Hollyhock festival, Aoi Matsuri, which is a quarter of the size. We meant to see it on our honeymoon, but it was on the day we had to leave the apartment for Tokyo, so we missed out. Maybe next time.

If you’re ever in Kyoto on 22 October, make time for the Jidai Matsuri.

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