It is mid July – and that means that for a whole month Kyoto is in the grips of Gion Matsuri! Even with the Grand Parade having been split into two parades, the Saki parade on the 17th and the Ato parade on the 24th, I would still say that the main event – the Saki matsuri – is happening this week.

In fact, today is the first day of yoi-yama, the three days, or rather, evenings, that lead up to the Saki matsuri on the 17th. I was not planning to go to town tonight, mainly because I am not sure whether there will be the large pedestrian zone during all three nights, or only for the last one. Also, there have been short but heavy rain showers in the afternoon and also now in the evening, and I am still hoping for better weather.

I did go to Yasaka (or Gion) shrine in the late afternoon though, because I know that the food stalls there are open already and I wanted to have something nice for dinner. It turned out that I came at the right time: Just when I arrived, there was a long row of people waiting at the entrance to Yasaka shrine. It turned out that those were the members of the Naginata-hoko group (the one float that will lead the Saki matsuri parade on Thursday) and that they, together with the chigo (the most important boy during Gion matsuri, he will perform a number of rites throughout this month and will ride on the Naginata-hoko) went to Gion shrine to pay their respects to the Gods – meaning that they would go to each and every shrine in the precincts to offer a short prayer. I am not entirely sure, but I would guess that the other groups from the other yama and hoko floats will be doing the same in the next two days.

Of course, this would not be Japan if there would be no big group picture, and I also got a few of my own… In the back you can see the three mikoshi that will be moved from the shrine to the Otabisho on Thursday evening, which is the main event of Gion matsuri, from a religious point of view.

Members of the Naginata-hoko posing before the three Mikoshi