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Sacred ornaments from Gion Festival parade floats put on display at Kyoto museum

A sacred carp ornament from the "Koiyama" float that is believed to date to around 1660 is seen in the Museum of Kyoto in the city's Nakagyo Ward on Nov. 30, 2020. (Mainichi/Kenji Yagura)
Sacred dolls from the "Jomyoyama" float are seen in the Museum of Kyoto in the city's Nakagyo Ward on Nov. 30, 2020. The figure seen to the right is Tsutsui Jomyo and the one to the left is Ichirai Hoshi. (Mainichi/Kenji Yagura)

KYOTO -- A special exhibition of sacred dolls and ornaments ordinarily attached to "yamahoko" floats that appear in the popular Gion Festival's grand procession, which was canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, has opened in this west Japan city.

    The objects, which will be on display at the Museum of Kyoto in the city's Nakagyo Ward until Dec. 6, are usually placed on floats that parade the streets on July 24 during the Gion Festival's "ato-matsuri" (latter festival). Among the objects available to see are a decorative piece representing a carp swimming up a waterfall for the float "Koiyama," as well as doll figures from the "Jyomyoyama" float that depicts the famous Battle of Ujigawa featuring monk warriors Tsutsui Jyomyo and Ichirai Hoshi, who competed to lead the battle.

    The Gion Festival yamahoko float federation first held the exhibition in autumn 2018, as part of efforts to check and investigate the state of the wooden ornaments, and also to let visitors see the figures up close. The recent exhibition is its fifth edition.

    The carp piece, said to contain a deity's spirit, is believed to have been created around 1660 by Hidari Jingoro, a renowned sculptor during the early Edo period. It can be observed in detail along with a shrine that worships the deity Susanoo, which becomes hidden from spectators' view during the procession. The two sacred dolls are usually positioned on the Jyomyoyama float in a dynamic composition, with one monk leaping over the other while placing his hand on his opponent's head. The exhibition also showcases the decorative rails of the float that have three-dimensional wood carvings of waves.

    Kazuo Kitagawa, the deputy director of the Koiyama preservation group, said, "The carp was protected and evacuated to Kamitoba by the townspeople during the fire following the (1864) Kinmon incident. I'd like visitors to take a thorough look at the historical pieces, especially as it's been a year in which we couldn't put on the float processions."

    The exhibition is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more inquiries, please contact the Gion Festival yamahoko float federation at 075-741-7211.

    (Japanese original by Kenji Yagura, Kyoto Bureau)

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