Gion Matsuri was clearly in this area. However, I didn’t see any floats, just people. Determined to find the floats, I set off to Yasuka shrine, where the festivities were supposed to start. After wondering through Gion, the geisha district, I managed to follow the signs until we reached Yasuka shrine. Situated on the top of a hill, its main feature was a giant stone Buddha which seemed to come out of the bamboo forest that surrounded it. It was beautiful and quite impressive.
Next to it, at a smaller shrine, a large group of children and adults were preparing for Gion Matsuri. All the children, standing next to a couple of smaller floats, were all dressed in similar festival costume. Adults scampered around, tending to the last details on the floats and getting everything in order. It seemed as though I had stumbled upon a “mini Matsuri”, one where the kids would be carrying the floats through the streets and chanting to the beat of Taiko drums.
Old men, dressed in their jinbei (resembling a men’s summer kimono) and old women in their yukatas (summer kimonos) stood around, chatting and nodding their heads slowly. Mothers tended to the needs of their children. Tucked away in this quiet area of Kyoto, there was a sense of excitement in the air.
The children, anxious to get on their way, could barely contain themselves, fiddling around and yelling to each other.
Suddenly, a whistle blew. The children, heaving, lifted up the mini float and began to chant to the beat of the Taiko drums which had also begun. Their chanting was angelic, yet full of determination and vigor, as they slowly turned out of the shrine and began to walk down one of the many winding and tiny streets of Kyoto, followed by their families and friends.
“Mechasugei!” a bystander next to me exclaimed.
I agreed. It was really awesome. After the first float passed, I soon heard the sounds of another one coming and sure enough, from around the corner, a new group of kids barreled toward us with a rather heavy looking float. With the assistance of a few adults, they were able to keep it steady.
After watching for awhile, I decided to head back to the Kawaramachi street, where the main festivities were being held. By this time, it was beginning to get dark. Making our way back to the main area, I nearly collided with two businessmen, red-faced and drunk.
“Sumimasen”, they slurred, as they took another sip of their Asahi canned beer.
I laughed. The poor Japanese could never hide when they were smashed, as their faces turned a bright red color. I had read somewhere that the Japanese lacked an enzyme in their body for metabolizing alcohol and the side effect of this was flushed skin. So therefore, whenever they had a drink (or a few drinks), it was quite obvious that they had been boozing.
Unfortunately for them, there was no way to lie to anyone about whether or not you had been drinking. They just couldn’t rely on a simple breath mint or a spray of perfume to do the trick. As a spouse or a parent, it was a foul proof way to tell if your husband, wife, or child was under the influence. Ingenious, really.