hakuga yama bo ya statue koto qin gion festival kyoto japan

Hakuga (Bo Ya) destroys his instrument when he learns no one is left to understand his music.

Music and Friendship

Bo Ya (Hakuga in Japanese) may be the best known musician of Chinese antiquity; he was a virtuoso on the qin, a horizontal Chinese harp that is a symbol of Chinese erudition, in the Spring and Autumn Period (8th-5th century B.C.E.). Incredibly, Bo Ya’s music is still played. The Hakuga Yama float shows Bo Ya with a koto, the Japanese version of a qin.

Though Bo Ya’s skill was widely acknowledged, he felt that no one really understood his music. One day a humble wood cutter named Zhong Ziqi (Japanese: Shōshiki) heard Bo Ya’s music from a distance, and could perfectly interpret what he was expressing. Thereafter a Chinese phrase “to know one’s music” became synonymous with empathic and ideal friendship, transcending differing backgrounds.

hakuga yama sugimoto machiya gion festival kyoto japan

Hakuga Yama’s treasures are on display for free, just inside the entrance to the historic Sugimoto family home. See the textile depicting Taoist Immortals. Tour the beautiful Sugimoto home for a fee, entrance next door. Well worth it.

When Bo Ya learned of Ziqi’s death, he again felt no one understood him and his music. Thus he destroyed his instrument and vowed to never play again. The Hakuga Yama float portrays this scene.

Hakuga Yama is an excellent example of the influence of Chinese classics on Japanese culture. It also shows how knowledge of the same was a way for the Gion Festival patrons to show their erudition.

This float’s treasures are displayed in the historic Sugimoto family home, where the tenth generation of Sugimotos continue to reside. Conservation culture and legal instruments for private homes have been relatively slow to arrive in Kyoto, and as a result such buildings are unusual and valuable. As part of the festival celebrations, the family graciously opens their home to the public. The fee goes towards maintaining this cultural property, designated of national importance by Kyoto City.