We’re in the middle of Gion matsuri already! Today is yoi-yoi-yoiyama, 3 nights before the Saki matsuri parade on Sunday. When you go to town these days, every shop plays Gion bayashi – the rather unmelodious festival music with flutes, cymbals, and drums, and the Gion lanterns are everywhere.
The other day I talked with a friend about Gion matsuri, in particular about the chigo, the young boy that has numerous duties during this month and rides on the first float of the Saki matsuri. I now know that he is considered sacred throughout this month, which means he is not supposed to touch the ground. Also, he is not allowed to come into contact with women – his mother included. For a boy of 10 years of age, this is probably not very easy, and I wonder if all the attention is really worth it.
It is definitely worth a lot to his family. In general, what you hear is that the chigo is chosen among the families of Gion. This is true, but the important word often omitted is wealthy. My friend said that the one-month honour of your son being the chigo comes with a price tag of some 30 million YEN, which can buy you a nice house in Kyoto. A healthy donation to Yasaka shrine is only a part of the costs, there are all sorts of other gifts to consider, as well as food and drink for the people coming to your house throughout the month, in particular those affiliated with the Naginata hoko.
Certainly, there is a lot of prestige coming with these kind of things, but still… Is such a high price worth it?