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Kyoto in motion: Shrine deity parades local streets in place of canceled Gion Festival

KYOTO -- In place of this west Japan city's famed Gion Festival, Shinto priests and a group of local parishioners paraded in areas around Yasaka Shrine to "have deities' spirits travel the community" as locals cannot go out amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    While the "yamahoko" float parade for the annual summer Gion Festival has been canceled for the second consecutive year, a procession led by a cart carrying a deity traveled local areas between July 18 and 23, following a similar event first held in 2020. The Yasaka Shrine deity, which was temporarily resting at a spot about 1 kilometer from the shrine, went through all 25 districts it protects between July 18 and 23.

    A Shinto priest is seen exorcizing evil spirits for people along the street during a shrine deity parade in Kyoto's Shimogyo Ward on July 19, 2021. (Mainichi/Yoko Minami)

    Shinto priests and board members of a local parishioners' group in charge of the ritual marched in the streets. At the procession's center was a cart carrying a deity and "gohei" wooden wands with white and gold streamers.

    For all parade dates, the procession departed at 5 p.m. from the deity's resting spot. On July 19, many locals went out to wait for the procession when they heard the drums signaling its arrival. The procession took a break during the journey, and returned to the resting spot at 6:30 p.m.

    Norio Kitamura, 52, a board member on the parishioners' group who devised the parade, said, "More people than last year came out to welcome the deity, and I'm happy we could hold the festival (in this way)."

    (Japanese original by Yoko Minami, Kyoto Bureau; Video taken by Kazuki Yamazaki, Osaka Photo Department)

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