Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day 48 : Aoi Matsuri, cell phone, game cube and flowers

As I told in my last article, because of rain, the Aoi Matsuri (also known as the Hollyhock festival) had to be postponed to the 16th of May. Because of that, on that Wednesday, with all the other students of the culture class, we went to the festival during the afternoon. We all gathered at the university and then walked to the Kamigamo shrine.  

While waiting for the procession to enter the Kamigamo shrine, the last step of the festival

First, here's a bit of history about this event ! The Hollyhock Festival started around the year 567, during the Asuka period in Japan. In this time, it seems there have been some really horrible events for the people of Kyoto, such as very bad yields during harvest seasons and horrible diseases. At that time, people thought all those events happened because of the evil deities of the Shimogamo and Kamigamo shrines. The Hollyhock festival (Aoi Matsuri) actually aims at recreating the time when the emperor of Japan of that time, Kinmei, sent messengers and offerings such as horses or other kind of presents to the Shimogamo and Kamigamo shrines in order to stop the evil forces of those places from tormenting the population of Kyoto. 

The festival takes places as follows: at 10:30am, the procession leaves the Imperial Palace of Kyoto to go to Shimogamo Jinja at the beginning of the afternoon around 11:40, and finishes by reaching Kamigamo Jinja around 15:30pm. 

The procession actually features not less than 511 people, 36 horses, 4 oxen and 2 main Gissha, a kind of carriage. All of them are dressed and behaving just as if they belonged to the Heian Period, between the 8th century and 12th century. It helps at creating an atmosphere of nostalgia and tradition. 

More than just walking from one place to another, some people from the procession have to perform some rituals (like dances or prayers) to beg the gods for their mercy and to pay homage to them, even though the majority of those events cannot be seen by the tourists: Only the deities of Kamigamo and Shimogamo shrines have the right to attend those sacred performances. 

The procession features different important characters, such as the leading messenger of the emperor, who rides his horse in front of all the other persons, or the Saio-Dai, a girl chosen from all the unmarried women of Kyoto to play the role of the princess of the Heian period.  She was actually asked to devote her life to the gods of the Kamigamo and Shimogamo shrines. During the procession, she has to wear the traditional clothes of the Saio-Dai made of twelve layers of cloth. Those two characters are the leading figures of the festival. 

When I attended the Hollyhock festival, everything was really beautiful. There were quite a lot of tourists, but I managed to see almost everything. The costumes and the way the people of the procession behaved made me feel as if I was in Japan several centuries ago! Everybody was being silent and quiet, while walking straight to the Kamigamo shrine. The Gissha, the animals and the beauty of the different outfits I’ve been able to see were really outstanding. Now, I have to admit I understand why the deities have stopped tormenting the area after getting such nice presents! Although, even if the procession was really harmonious and beautiful to see, I have to say it remained quite a long and passive event for the tourists. After the 1 kilometer long procession finished going to the Kamigamo shrine, there was nothing left to see because the rest of the festival is sacred. I wish I could have entered those holy places and see the whole performance! 

After the festival was finished, I didn't have anything else to do during that day, since I had already finished my homeworks. This reminded me that I needed to buy a Japanese phone (since my French phone cannot use the Japanese network to send free emails, I always have to send SMS, which are really expensive here for prepaid simcards !). Unfortunately, since I'm under 20, I needed to be accompanied by a Japanese person over 20 years old. This is why I asked Yuya, one of my Japanese friends if he could come with me to a SoftBank shop. I told him that after that, we could go to the I House to play video games with Corentin. He agreed and told me we could even go there on his scooter ! When we arrived where he lived... well, sometimes, pictures are better than words :

So hipster ! Haha, I couldn't believe that !
 It was one of the most amazing things I was able to see in Japan. His scooter was so freaking amazing ! It looked so unreal ! It seems to be an old school Japanese scooter... but actually, I have to say it looked more like a Star Wars spaceship ! He drove me to the shop and I bought my phone ! It's quite a simple phone, but still, thanks to it, I can send emails for free anywhere in the world. Useful to keep in touch with people in France and in Japan !

After that, we went to the I House and played video games for a couple of hours. Then, it was time to say good bye ! 

You may be wondering why I put the word "flowers" in the title of this article ? Me too. 

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