Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 16th

Started out the day going to the Kobe Stake Relief Society activity. A sister missionary provided translations of what was being said using the head set/transmitter set-up. Since she wasn't in front as a reminder, people were speaking at normal speed without bothering to pause to give her time to translate so her whispered voice in my left ear only covered about a third of what people were saying. The topic was temples and there was lots of tears and a video on the Tokyo temple which did have English subtitles. I left the activity early to meet Craig at the train station for the second adventure of the day.

We met up with people from RIKEN and went to Kyoto for Gion Matsuri. The Gion Festival has been taking place annually in Kyoto for about 1000 years. According to Wikipedia is started out as a purification ritual in the time of plague but the merchant class morphed it into a celebration of history (umm wealth) by adding a section to the festival where they open their front doors and put their family heirlooms (expensive heirlooms) on display for the riff raff to catch a peak at while they walk past. There is a parade on Sunday featuring big floats that are pulled by people through the Gion neighborhood. On Saturday the floats are on display and it is like a reverse parade, the floats stay still and the people walk past them. And there were a lot of people. Apparently 1 million descend on Kyoto for the event. We were warned in advance that it was going to be hot and crowded.

In Kyoto, in order for it to maintain an air of the old world, the wearing of yukata is encouraged. Yukata are cotton summer kimonos. The group we went with had gone yukata shopping the Sunday before so they were all decked out. The men looked like they had on cotton bath robes and they seemed about as comfortable, the women looked quite lovely but uncomfortable. The yukata did not appeal to me. The obi, belt, that goes around the middle is trussed up tight, almost like a corset so they complained of the ropes inside the wide fabric belt cutting into them on the train ride to Kyoto, difficulty breathing and, because of the bow in the back, the inability to sit back in a chair. Additionally, the kimono is wrapped around your legs so your stride is unnaturally shortened and the traditional flip flop style wooden shoes with the narrow horizontal lifts force you to set your foot down level with every step instead of a more natural rolling movement. None of them had on the traditional shoes but they all had to take the itty bitty baby steps. A lot of fashion is designed to make women less physically capable and the kimono is no exception. For my part I was wearing a long flowy skirt for the hopes of extra ventilation, a thin, flowy long sleeved top to keep the sun off and to keep cool, sensible shoes, and a big straw hat since I didn't think the parasol would be safe in such crowds. I screamed gaijin but if Godzilla had attacked all those yukata wearing women would have been tasty appetizers and I'd have gotten away :)

This is the gate to the shrine associated with the festival.

Here are some of the women from RIKEN wearing their Yukatas.

People were lined up to ring prayer bells at the shrine.

Unlike the Suma temple we went to weeks ago, this shrine had fewer statues and quiet places built for worship. This is one building with rows of lanterns.

Here are the women with their traditional paper fans.

There were multiple floats but to our undiscerning eyes they were all just about the same. The front and back had a wall of lanterns.
In the center musicians sat and played music. A large spire came out the top symbolizing the original floats, which weren't actually floats but halberd style weapons carried down the streets.
The sides were very ornate. They all seemed much more luxurious than anything at the Macy's parade.

This was the crowd at the train station when we were trying to get back home.
This is a crowd shot from the street that connected the shrine with the parade area. At one point we were literally shoulder to shoulder and there was some pushing but no complaining and everyone acted very calmly despite being packed in like sardines. Occasionally someone would try to push me, but since I've got 20 plus pounds on almost all the women, am about the same size as the men, and had on my sensible shoes people figured out pretty quickly I wasn't going to move out of their way. I set myself up as a barrier for the smaller, yukata wearing women in the group who were easily being tossed by the crowd. However, their slow gait and the insane amount of people were driving me mad and I eventually abandoned them and pushed my way out quickly to avoid a gaijin/Godzilla style rampage.

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