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Kyoto in motion: Festival floats appear on streets with huge poles hoisted for 1st time in 2 yrs

From right, the "tsuki hoko," "naginata hoko," and "kanko boko" floats are seen in Shijo-dori street in the city of Kyoto's Shimogyo Ward, on July 12, 2021, for the first time in two years. (Mainichi/Kazuki Yamazaki)

KYOTO -- Four "yamahoko" floats for Kyoto's famed Gion Festival, which are crowned with towering wooden poles that stretch up over 20 meters in height, appeared on the streets in the central area of the city on July 12, after being assembled and furnished with decorative objects.

    The "naginata hoko" float stands assembled in Shijo-dori street in the city of Kyoto's Shimogyo Ward, on July 12, 2021, for the first time in two years. (Mainichi/Kazuki Yamazaki)

    As the "yamahoko tate" float-building had been canceled in all areas in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kyoto's emblematic summer tradition returned to the city for the first time in two years.

    Wooden ornaments of the "naginata hoko" float, for which gold extracted from small home electronics was used, are seen in the city of Kyoto's Shimogyo Ward, on July 9, 2021. (Mainichi/Yoko Minami)

    On this day, a traditional technique of wrapping thick straw rope around the joining sections of the float's wooden framework and fastening them together was demonstrated, and the long "shingi" pole adorned with decorations was inserted in the wooden structure and hoisted high in the air. The event showcased a series of techniques as the float became gradually assembled, in keeping with the Gion Festival yamahoko float federation's statement that this summer's float-building would take place in order to "pass down traditional skills."

    The decorative items attached to the "naginata hoko" float are seen in the city of Kyoto's Shimogyo Ward, on July 12, 2021. (Mainichi/Kazuki Yamazaki)

    A good number of people paused to watch the spectacle, and a round of applause erupted when the shingi pole was safely inserted.

    The "kanko boko" float, right, and "tsuki hoko" float, stand assembled in the Shijo-dori street in the city of Kyoto's Shimogyo Ward, on July 12, 2021, for the first time in two years. (Mainichi/Kazuki Yamazaki)

    Meanwhile, a purification ritual took place at the city's Yasaka Shrine on the evening of July 10, where "mikoshi" portable shrines were taken out of storehouses and purified in the water of the Kamo River. It was the first time in two years for the mikoshi shrines to line up in front of the main shrine building, as the purification ritual was carried out last year with them kept inside the storehouses. The mikoshi shrines will be left outside until July 28.

    Though they only carried it for about a dozen meters within the shrine, the people who carried the mikoshi called out to each other, showing joy and pride in being able to contribute to the festival.

    Furthermore, gold leaf was reapplied to four wooden ornaments of a "shachi" (a creature in Japanese folklore with the head of a tiger and the body of a carp) and clouds, which decorate the roof of the "naginata hoko" (halberd float), bringing them back to their beautiful state. Some 110 sheets of golden leaf, with a total weight of about 3 grams, were used. These were provided by the Kyoto Municipal Government, which made the gold leaf from material extracted from small home electronics no longer in use collected by the city. Osamu Kageyama, head of the Bijyutsuin national treasure repair institute, said that the gold leaf had the same conditions as that procured regularly.

    Following repairs that lasted for one year until this March, the ornaments were attached to the float after being demonstrated at the headquarters of a group aiming to preserve the naginata hoko float. The four pieces were all made in 1828, and were under repair to fix the loose eyes of the shachi as well as cracks in parts of its body.

    (Japanese original by Yoko Minami, Kyoto Bureau)

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