Rare Color Images Of Kyoto's Gion Festival Digitized For Research

Rare color images of Kyoto's Gion Festival digitized for researchResearchers have digitized 242 rare color images depicting the original form of Kyoto’s historic Gion Festival.
The color reversal slides were taken from 1960 to 1963 by researchers from the Doshisha University Institute for Study of Humanities and Social Sciences who were studying the festival, which became an annual event during the Heian Period (784-1185).

The images include vivid shots of the Yamahoko Junko, the grand procession of “yamahoko” floats, held during the latter part of the festival, and Kyoto’s landscape more than 50 years ago.

Yamahoko Junko was originally held twice during the festival, but since 1966, the procession has only been held once to increase crowd turnout for the day.

The color transparencies were held by the family of Choshu Takeda, who led the research team when he was a professor at Doshisha University in the early 1960s. After Takeda died, the family turned over the slides to 78-year-old Masahiko Kawahara, a member of the Gion Matsuri Yamahoko ornaments deliberative committee, which is involved in research into the ancient festival.

Kawahara, who is also an honorary staff member of the Kyoto National Museum, said the film captures a long-gone Kyoto cityscape and the lives of everyday people in the early postwar years.

“It is a valuable document that teaches us that the Gion Festival has continued on to this day through the interactions between the people and religion,” Kawahara said.

One of the images during the second Yamahoko Junko in 1960 shows a Kitakannon-yama float leading the procession as it arrives at the Karasuma-Sanjo intersection, where the procession began at that time. Another image captures the festival’s “kuji aratame,” a ritual to ensure the correct order of yamahoko floats in the parade.

Other images show Kanko Hoko illuminated by “komagata chochin” lanterns at dusk, as well as old street scenes, including railways of the municipal streetcar on Shijo-dori street and two-storied houses of the time.

The images contain many shots of syncretism rituals, which meld the traditions and beliefs of traditional Japanese Shinto with Buddhism.

The color transparencies will be available to institutes concerned with historical research. A catalog of the images will be created before they are released.