This is only my second July in Kyoto – and already lots of things have changed since my first time…

The weather is not so nice as last year. It is less sunny, so far we had overcast weather practically daily for a couple of weeks already, and it does also rain much more than last year at this time, although still not enough to call it a proper rainy season. I think the relative lack of rain is the reason why I am not yet seriously depressed right now, I really don’t like it that grey day in day out… At least the temperatures are up where they should be, in their low thirties during the day and in their twenties during the night – which means you can still sleep. That’s certainly a bonus; also it does not feel quite as humid this year. I hope the weather will stay like this – if only with respect to the humidity…

The other big change since last year is regarding to Gion Matsuri. I have written extensively about it last year, it is probably the largest and certainly the most famous of the festivals in Japan. This year the proceedings have been renewed, or rather, re-traditionalised, as now there will be two parades of floats instead of only a single one. From this year on, we will have the so-called Saki Matsuri with the first and bigger (23 floats) Yama Hoko Grand Parade on July 17th, and the preceding yoi-yama party evening on the 16th. And then, there will be the Ato Matsuri with the second and smaller (10 floats) Yama Hoko Grand Parade on July 24th, combined with the Hanagasa Flower Hat Procession (which also took place last year on the same day). The other events surrounding the two parades will take place as the year before.

Apparently, this way of having two parades – one before (saki) and one after (ato) the Gion shrine deities have been moved to their temporary resting place in the Otabisho – was the original form of Gion Matsuri that has been practised until 1965, when it was abandoned because of increased road traffic and the disturbances it would cause to have two parades that effectively close off the inner city. Obviously, it is unlikely that car traffic has severely decreased in the last 48 years, but these days, there are other priorities, and this one is called: tourism. People who made the decision to return to the traditional two-parade Gion matsuri are hoping that there will be more people coming, or that at least they will be a bit more spread out this time.

Personally, I don’t mind either way, and I will probably go and see both parades anyway. I just hope that the yoi-yama evening on July 16th, when the inner city is closed and turned into a pedestrian zone, will have an atmosphere just as festive and relaxed as last year. Let’s hope it will not rain!

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