Monday, June 14, 2010

Jidai Matsuri - Festival of the Ages Pt1

22nd October, 2006 - So what's there to do on 22nd of October? In Kyōto, that can only mean one thing (at least during the day). Jidai Matsuri (the Festival of the Ages). It's an amazing historical costume-drama-par-excellence that starts at Kyōto Gosho and culminates at Heian-Jingu . A snapshot of 1200 years of history in a fantastic street parade. T-chan and I had booked seats just down from Kyōto Gosho (the origin), though you can quite easily view the parade from free vantage points along the route (just not quite as comfortably as there's half the country trying to get a look at the same time).

This festival is relatively young, starting in 1895 AD for the 1,100th anniversary of the city (and perhaps as a way of maintaining a claim to history as the focus of Japanese power progressively shifted to Tokyo).

Now that's what I call a flag...

The parade is strange in that it runs in reverse. It starts out with modern times, and progressively reaches back into the depths of history of this great city. The whole parade takes 2-3 hours to complete, and whilst it's always interesting, it's slow-paced and I'd recommend splashing out for the seats. You also get a good programme in both Japanese and English included with the tickets.

We start this long journey (ain't going to fit into one post I'm afraid) with a promise. I can promise I won't be able to explain all the historical figures that form the parade, but I hope at least you will get a flavour of the day and of some of the history of the city. Or at least enjoy the spectacle.

The Meiji Restoration. Mixing modern (for the time) with traditional. Western with Eastern. A strange period where Japan stepped from the shadows of feudalism and gripped the modern world in a kind of death-embrace. All with typical staid Japanese conservative reverence combined with revolutionary zeal that we've come to expect.

The Procession of the Patriots... what happens when you're on the winning side.

I could not tell whether the participants were there to enjoy themselves, or to take it very seriously as a privilege given only to those special people. I suspect he's either having a good time, or he's just getting way too deep into his character.

The figure of Sakamoto Ryōma (1836 – 67 AD) makes a solitary statement; although one of the many stalwarts that had been pivotal in the Meiji restoration he holds a special place in Japanese modern history. Coming from Tosa prefecture, which like Choshu and Satsuma was a hot-bed of anti-shogunal feeling; he was one of the architects of  modern Japan... and like many others in such historic positions, he died way too young... assassinated at the age of 33.

It was shortly following the time of Matthew Perry's aggressive breaking of Japanese isolation that a new dynamic had quickly evolved out of the ashes of a weakened shogunate (oh... that was Commodore Perry - not of the Ross and Rachel Friends variety). Various para-military organisations had sprung up,  in part from the trouble torn outer domains - or the just as violent anti-foreigner armed vigilantes. The tozama daimyo (or outside lords) whom had not supported Ieyasu Tokugawa centuries before had always been excluded from power ever since - even after all these hundreds of years. And as the shogunate prevaricated over how it could handle the overwhelming alien force embodied by Perry - the anti-shogunate forces grew increasingly bold. These went under the banner “sonnō jōi” (revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians). It was a turbulent time in Japanese history, and the last hurrah of Kyōto, as the capital offically moved to Tokyo in 1867.

The Royal Army of the Meiji Restoration. If they weren't going to kill you, they'd  play you a damn fine bit of flute-work.

A short vid of the Royal Army of the Meiji Restoration...

I'm not sure he knows that it's only a costume drama... or that he didn't actually live through all of this personally! Or did he?....

He brought his two brothers: Larry and Curly.

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around... The Shogun's Deputy is coming to town...And that means a parade within a parade.

Somehow I don't think they're selling L'oreal products...

Back in those days, every official visit should be preceded by army of young men in shorts and twirly-hairy-things. Of course. Whilst the meaning of this little display was a bit of a mystery, it was a crowd favourite.

Size is not the most important thing... but not looking like a complete idiot would be up there. Thankfully, they've done this once or twice before.

Long-bowman. Known... strangely enough.... for their long bows.

One of the many retinue of the Shogun's Deputy.... nameless but not without dignity.

One of the travelling palanquins...not sure if this is exactly the gold-service transport... but I suppose you were better off in the box than carrying it. Having said that, in the hot humid Japanese summer, that might be debatable.

Kazu-no-Miya (1860). She was both the daughter of Emperor Ninkō, and the half sister to Emperor Kōmei. She became the wife of the 14th Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi at the ripe old age of 16 in a very Japanese attempt to bridge the gap between Shogunate and Imperial power bases. Apparently it didn't work. Like many figures in Japanese history, they disappear from the annals of history once they join the Buddhist ranks by taking the tonsure... denoted by the shaving of their heads.

She doesn't look too happy about that part of the deal...

Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1850). She was most known for her abilities as a Waka Poet (Waka is the traditional Heian-era Japanese poetry...and no... that wasn't in the vein of "there once was a man from Nantucket" either). After her husband died, she also took to religion, and became a nun. This was a much more common thing back in those days

Yoshino Tayu (1630). One of the pre-eminent entertainers of Edo-period Japan, she was considered it's pinnacle. However, for all that her servants really did leave a lot to be desired. I mean really... I think he bought that hair-piece at Don Quihote!

Izumo no Okuni (1600). This imposing figure advancing down the road may seem some crazy warrior-nun (if there are such things). Whilst she was one of the maidens at the Grand Shrine at Izumo, she is also more widely known as the originator of the Kabuki style of drama... a natural progression from her religious dancing perhaps. Kabuki (in her original form) was quite a bit more risqué and perhaps not entirely at one with the sacred and serious. It was also exclusively played by women (unlike today, when it's exclusively played by men...)

Thus we come to the end (or should I say beginning) of the Edo period... and we move into a more vibrant period of Kyōto's history. Thanks for joining in the journey so far.
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  1. The parade looks awesome! Those outfits are amazing. Can you actually tell by what they're wearing which historical figures they represent? I guess Sakamoto Ryoma would be the easiest one to pick out for me.

  2. I have to say that whilst I have a bit of a tongue-in-cheek description of the parade, it was really fun to go to. My only comment is that if you don't get tickets (and the little booklet), then being able to know who each of the people are would be next to impossible. Some of the "historical figures" are slightly obscure - at least from a gaigokujin perspective.

    As for the different styles, you definitely see a progression. But also - the choice of figures also reflects to some extent snapshots in fashion (as it's the costumes that are the stars of the parade).

    I hate to imagine what they do when it's raining on the 22nd.