Saturday, July 25, 2015

First Week Japan: Day 7 - Matsuri

Kiyomizu temple

As today was good weather again, we decided to visit the famous Kiyomizu temple on the hill with a view over Kyoto. Unfortunately we had to hurry a bit because the temples sometimes close at times that differ a little from what is published in the travel guide or on the web (yes, most of them run an informative English web site). Even though the terrace building was very impressive and not common at all that time.

Continuing we drove our bicycles downhill to Gion. It took some time to find a not too illegal and unpaid parking spot for the bikes. Yes, bike parking in the city is mostly paid. Although bike parking automats are in Japanese only. we found out (partially with the help of friendly Japanese) how to store, lock, pay and unlock your bike there, and needed some time to left them somewhere.

We were lucky enough to visit Kyoto during their matsuri festival which is considered to be one of the three oldest and most famous festivals in Japan. Back in the sixth century, a big misfortune came over middle Japan; the harvest couldn't be worse, the need couldn't be greater. As a result the mighty Emperors went to visit the Shrines very often with special costumes decorated by aoi-leaves, which were supposed to be very powerful as the bad luck changed. The festival runs for over 500 years now, always during the entire month of July. Beside the religious purification ceremonies, the highlights are processions of large floats around the city. These floats are up to 12 meters high and are either carried or drawn by dozens of people. Every float belongs to a quarter of the city, and the people around their float are dressed on their quarter's yukatas.
On some floats, groups of men sit and play traditional music with flutes, tambourins and bells - together with some singing comments that sound quite strange for European ears. The following video is a short excerpt from the song that seems to have at least 100 verses...

We missed the big processions, but were able to enjoy the last night before the procession (there are three festive nights for each of the processions). The floats stay put in these nights, but music is played, people stroll along the streets and the wealthy locals display their precious wand screens in their windows. 

Private treasures on public display with ikebana decoration

What I learned in this week: I'll give you an advice. I suggest not to visit Japan in summer. It is so incredibly hot and humid, you're practically sweating out of every pore just by standing in the shade! But if you do, please do not bring any plastic cloths that make you sweat even harder. If you don't want to seem like a hyper-tourist as much as you anyway do, get some skin-covering but light clothing with you. Long trousers are customary - you are not in the Bermudas or in Mallorca. And don't forget an umbrella (they are expensive in Japan because they mostly sell only _expensive looking_ ones) for rain and especially for sun. And never mind how you look, not a single combination is forbidden.

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