Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jidai Matsuri pt 4... The End and Beginning of an Age

22nd October, 2006 - This is phase is known  as the Enryaku Period - and back on familiar ground, we see the march of warriors...

Being led by Sakanoue-no-Tamuramaro, the military leader at the dawn of Kyōto, or Heian-Kyo... the Capital of Peace and Tranquility, as it was known. Somewhat ironic? He was one of the original Shogun of Japan, tasked to subdue the native Emishi in the north of Honshu. Shogun is the shortened form of  seii taishōgun, which means "great general who subdues eastern barbarians". This was the favourite past-time of generals in Japan over many hundred of years - and continued only until only the Ainu of Hokkaido were left to subjugate.... and then there were none.

It had however been a very long day already.... and all that subjugation can take it out of a man. No matter how strong his samurai spirit.

Following the passage of the warriors, we see the march of the court nobles. It would appear that the concept of convenience had not quite come into Japanese umbrella design by the early Heian period... just joking!

An important part of the precession is the Offerings to the Deity... and we know that the best place to officiate offerings from is horseback... actually - horses were common offerings to shrines in olden times. What they did with them, I don't want to know... Indeed horse offerings were the original source of the more modern ema board offerings you see today.

Whilst those exorczing evil spirits with their tamagushi, made of Sakaki branches decorated with shide paper didn't look quite as jovial. The Sakaki tree (Cleyera japonica) is sacred to the Japanese Shinto religion, even figuring in the creation myths recorded in the ancient book, the Kojiki.

Of course, you can't have a grand-finale without just a little more colour and music... no, we certainly haven't had enough colour yet... have we? The next segment of the parade is called th Zen-Retsu, who offer both music and performance to herald the approaching deities...

In the mean-time we have these wonderfully (but somewhat strangely) dressed boys... are they angels, I hear you ask? I dunno. This one certainly didn't look too heaven-sent if you ask me. In fact he looked like he knew exactly how long the day was going to be. Only 1,745 m to go.

His friend looks a little too self-assured by contrast.

The Zen-Retsu continues with the approach of the musicians....

A potent music rings out across the path leading from Kyōto Gosho... the former Imperial Palace. This amazing looking instrument is known as the shō, and dates from the dawn of Kyōto (though was derived from an earlier instrument imported from China). Apparently the sound is supposed to imitate that of a Phoenix (er...ok)... and the two largest pipes are actually silent - but representative of the phoenix wings (no really... Wikipedia... are you making this up?).

And if that didn't do it for you, there's nothing like banging the gong to let you know that Deity approaches....

My first (embarrassingly bad) vid of the Zen-Retsu...

(I might throw in a vid or two on earlier posts now...)

Finally the climax of the parade. The Shinko Retsu. The Precession of the Sacred Carriage. First we meet the spirit of Emperor Komei (1831 - 1867 AD)... in typical anti--chronological fashion for Jidai Matsuri - the last Emperor to reside in Kyōto comes first. Whilst their spirits normally reside in Heian Jingu, they are able to get-out-and-abooot through the use of these portable shrines (mikoshi). Handy. In Japanese belief, their spirits have become kami - godlike beings in the pantheon of gods that the Japanese worship. But these gods are more like the gentle-autumn-breeze rather than the smiting-from-up-high-variety.

I'm not sure what the significance of the two objects are that research wasn't thorough enough at the time, and Google-sensei has sadly failed me at the last. Also, I'm not sure if there is significance in the riderless horse. I'm assuming he hadn't just fallen off. Please oh please - if you know, drop me a line.

Following in quick order is the spirit of Emperor Kammu (737 - 806 AD), the first Emperor of the city of Heian-Kyo. Kyōto . Kammu was an unlikely Emperor in that he was supposedly directly descended from Korean royalty through his mother's side. Also, Kyōto was not his first choice of location for his capital... initially he'd moved from Nara (hot-bed of Buddhist power as it was) to Nagaoka... but after a series of disasters befell the Imperial family, he naturally thought (only 10 years later) it'd be best to do the whole relocating the capital thing again... to the site of Kyōto. And here the capital stayed (from 794 to 1867 AD)... just a little while.

The Japanese Phoenix, or as it's more correctly known, Hō-ō. It's synonymous with the coming of a new era or the birth of a particularly auspicious ruler. Certainly Emperor Kammu had left his indelible mark on the country through his legacy. His city.

Once again, not to be outdone, Emperor Kammu also sports a couple of...hmmm... er.... those things.

Of course, we couldn't end the parade there... following up the mikoshi comes an army of flower-carrying obasan. 

So Jidai Matsuri doesn't end with a bang, but with a boquet... not quite what I was expecting...

Thus ends my posts of Jidai Matsuri... what a journey!

 We had a good day, and it was well worth the price of the ticket (about 2000 yen, which includes the reserved seat and nice glossy and informative program). I know that it's also possible to see the parade wind it's way through the streets of Kyōto, but to my mind,it's much more comfortable getting a seat and enjoying the whole thing in a more relaxed way. Take some food and drink... it's a long afternoon.... and it had only just started for us.
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  1. Those are some amazing and beautiful period costumes. It reminds me of the matsuri in Nikko I attended back in 2004, the Procession of 1000 Samurai.

  2. Yeah.... I've heard that it's quite similar. It went for at least 2 hours, and if you've got the time, it's worth staying for the whole parade. Still - not that easy knowing who all the personalities are, even if you're familiar with Japanese history.

  3. Wow that is a long festival! I love the costumes though. Seems like your seats were worth the view. =)

  4. It's a very long festival... not sure how many people involved - but enough. Need a lot of patience to sit through the whole thing (and it's only because we had 2+ weeks in Kyoto that we would have spared the time).

    But - interesting to see the differnt styles of clothing. I have to say though that generally the instruments, dance, and more dynamic parts were the best. There was a lot of very static displays (woman seated on platforms) that was less interesting except purely from an aesthetic perspective.

    A lot of poeple head off early to Kurama no-Hi Matsuri which is up in the hills in the afternoon (very, very popular... )