The Gion Festival Community
Does the Gion Festival still depend on the chōnai?
The collapse of the kimono industry in post-bubble Japan transformed the Gion Festival chōnai. Historical homes and companies have given way to apartment buildings, seasonal residents, and modern businesses like offices, restaurants and convenience stores.
With major growth in non-chōnai support of the Gion Festival–World Heritage status, National Treasure and Important Cultural Property status, tourism, related government subsidies–the Gion Festival’s foundation is morphing. More than ever, the festival patrons are stalwart champions of its traditions.
For example, traditionally there’s a Gion Festival sub-festival called the Byōbu Matsuri (Folding-Screen Festival). Even now resident families and companies graciously open their doors and windows to display priceless folding screens, suits of armor, kimono and other family heirlooms.
Can anyone be part of the Gion Festival community?
More than a million people visit the Gion Festival each year. That means that visitors like you and me (though mostly Japanese) far outnumber the Gion Festival chōnai members. How can this possibly be sustainable?
I’ve reflected a lot on this. As festival visitors, how can we respond in kind to the festival patrons’ hospitality and generosity?
It’s a surprisingly simple shift in perception: We visitors recognize that we are part of the community. And what do community members do? Support one another.
It may be only for an hour, an evening, or a day. But while we’re at the festival, we can show some appreciation for the Gion Festival chōnai and other community members. It can be a smile, a thank you, or buying a souvenir of a favorite float. After all, these people graciously volunteer to keep the Gion Festival going for us to enjoy. And our appreciation fuels their efforts.
I’ve chosen to focus on three things: the spiritual roots of the festival, to help it continue as a meaningful ritual, in whatever way visitors choose to experience. Secondly, I highlight the importance of supporting the Gion Festival communities, who so generously share their heritage with us each year. Thirdly, I love cultivating a generative Gion Matsuri, to ensure its vibrant continuation for centuries to come. Happily, the first two elements naturally lead to the third.
Join in the growing international community. Thoughtful feedback is welcome and helpful. You’re invited to share via social media links above, or the Contact page. If you see me on the streets amidst the Gion Matsuri, stop me and say hi!
Access free interactive maps with locations and description of all 34 Gion Festival floats, plus procession routes!