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Giant Gion Festival float destroyed in 1864 fire being rebuilt in Kyoto for 2022 parade debut

The Takayama float, rebuilt to return to the Gion Festival next year, is unveiled to the media in Kyotamba, Kyoto Prefecture, on May 24, 2021. (Mainichi/Kazuki Yamazaki)

KYOTAMBA, Kyoto -- Rebuilding work is underway on an enormous "yamahoko" float for Kyoto's famed Gion Festival that had been lost in an 1864 fire, and progress on the project was unveiled to the media at the contractor's workshop in this Kyoto Prefecture town on May 24.

    Those involved in rebuilding the "Takayama" float aim to have it rolling through Kyoto's streets for the first time since the late Edo period (1603-1867), and are planning a test-pull in September this year.

    The rebuilt Takayama float is about 7.6 meters tall, 6.4 meters long and 4.3 meters wide, and weighs more than 10 metric tons. The float's main platform features figures of three deities in hawking poses. Some of the essential components including the four wheels came from other floats, and were installed after being repaired. Gion Festival's 34 floats, including Takayama, are classified into five types. Takayama is one of the largest floats of its type, which are pulled with ropes and feature a pine tree on the main platform.

    Takayama was heavily damaged by strong wind and rain in 1826, and could not be included in the Gion Festival parade from the following year. Most of the float was then destroyed in a massive fire in 1864 caused by the "Kinmon incident" (literally "Forbidden Gate incident"), a rebellion during the twilight years of the Edo period. The deity figures escaped the blaze, and have been enshrined at a meeting place during the festival ever since.

    On May 24, decorations including the "dokake" cover incorporating Persian carpets, and the "mizuhiki" brocaded drapery, which were recreated based on historical records, were put on the float for the first time, though temporarily. Experts checked how they looked, and decided where and facing in which direction to place the deity figures.

    "It looks so good that I nearly cried," Junji Yamada, head of the Takayama preservation association, commented. "We've reached the minimum level to join the parade next year."

    (Japanese original by Yoko Minami, Kyoto Bureau)

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