JAPAN: Kyoto (Gion Matsuri / 祇園祭)

If your travel itinerary to Kyoto was not already bursting at the seams with things to and places to see, there is one more item which merits consideration.  It is the Gion Matsuri (Gion Festival/祇園祭) which takes place during the entire month of July and is punctuated by two float processions, (Yamaboko Junko/ 山鉾巡行), held on July 17 and July 24.  It is the largest and most famous festival in Japan.

The festival originated in 869 when the Japanese people will suffering from plague and pestilence. The Emperor Seiwa ordered the people to pray to the god of Yasaka Shrine to deliver them from all that ailed them and the practice was repeated whenever there was an outbreak. In 970 it became an annual event that eventually evolved into a huge celebration of Kyoto culture. During the Edo period, the wealthy merchant class used the festival/ parade to brandish their wealth and thus it grew into a more elaborate event.

Although the Gion Matsuri is centered on a collection of magnificent parade floats known as “yamaboko,” the events preceding the float processions known as “yoiyama” also draw huge crowds to what seems like an colossal summer block party.  People happily stroll through Kyoto’s downtown area, which during the three nights leading up to the parade(s), is reserved for pedestrian only traffic. They don their summer yukatas and partake of the street food and beer offered at the various food stalls lining the streets. These events are called Yoi-yoi-yoi-yama, Yoi-yoi-yama and Yoi-yama, respectively.

Yoi-yama (宵山) takes place on July 16 and July 23, Yoi-yoi-yama (宵々山) on July 15 and July 22, and Yoi-yoi-yoi-yama (宵々々山) on July 14 and July 21. Some of the oldest families in the area open the front of their traditional machiya houses or shops to display their treasures to the public during this time. This tradition is known as Byobu Matsuri. (Byobu is a traditional Japanese folding screen.) You cannot enter the houses, but you can admire the treasures from outside.

Also prior to the parade(s), the yamaboko are brought out of their warehouses and assembled in designated spots on the major downtown streets of Kyoto (the main area is Shijo-dori between the Kamo-gawa River and Horikawa-dori). Yamaboko refers to the two types of floats used in the procession: the 23 yama and 10 hoko. The yama floats are enormous in size, some weighing as much as 12 tons and towering 25 meters in height.  The hoko floats are smaller but still an example of Kyoto’s finest craftsmanship and artistry.

The procession takes place between 9:00 and 11:30 and follows a three kilometer route.  Paid seating is available in front of the city hall but good viewing spots along the parade route are abundant.

So, if you are fortunate enough to find yourself in Kyoto in July, put on your summer yukata and come see what all the fun is about.

Web page:         http://gionfestival.org/













Japan: Hachioji Geisha

Even if you have never visited Japan, you must be familiar with Japan’s geisha culture. With their distinctive white face, red lips and elaborately decorated hairstyle, the geisha remain an enduring symbol of Japan. The word geisha means performance person.  The geisha are the entertainers of Japan and their existence can be traced back to the 1600s (Edo period).  To become a geisha, it takes years of training. Geisha typically begin their training as early as sixteen years of age and are called maiko (geisha in training). The maiko receive extensive coaching in singing, dancing and playing traditional Japanese instruments as well as the use of proper customs and social skills.

It was estimated that Japan had over 80,000 geisha at one time, today that number has dwindled down to 1,000 – 2,000.  The geisha can primarily be found in Japan’s cultural capital of Kyoto.  They continue to work in traditional teahouses as they have always done, entertaining and charming their clientele with their highly cultivated skills. But you do not have to travel to Kyoto to see the geisha.  Hachioji, in western Tokyo, also has its own geisha culture.

Hachioji City is often overlooked by many people living in central Tokyo, but it is more densely populated than central London and has a vibrant city center.  Easily accessible by the central JR Chuo Line from Tokyo or Shinjuku stations, the city is renowned for its traditional Japanese festival, the Hachioji Matsuri (八王子まつり).

The three-day festival is held in the beginning of August and includes a parade of mikoshi (portable shrines) and nineteen dashi (floats), music and dance performances and over three hundred food and gift stands. It is the largest festival in Hachioji.  The festival also features performances by Hachioji’s geisha.

The geisha culture at its peak had 200-300 geisha working in over 30 restaurants in Hachioji, which was a busy transportation route to Edo (Tokyo). Today, there are less than 20 geisha working in the city. The geisha house in Hachioji is known as Yukinoe okiya, where 54-year-old geisha, Megumi is the okaasan (mother).

The geisha also participate in a series of geisha parades held in September.  The women, dressed in their traditional kimonos, dance and play music as they weave through the streets just north of Hachioji Station.  The parades are usually held between 6:00 to 9:00 PM and last 30 minutes.

So whether you are interested in learning more about the geisha culture or if you want to experience a traditional Japanese summer festival, take a quick trip to Hachioji.  Hachioji Station is just 51 minutes from Tokyo Station on the Chuo Line.

Web page:         http://www.hachiojimatsuri.jp/


Hachioji Matsuri








Megumisan helping a young geisha get ready



JAPAN: Akita (Yokote Kamakura Matsuri)

Each year from February 15th -16th, the Doro Koen Park located in front of the City Hall in Yokote City is host to a 400 year old festival that is really worth seeing. Known as the Yokote Kamakura Festival, the event features countless igloo-like snow houses called kamakura.

Although the park is the primary location for the festival, a fantastic world also emerges each evening extending east of Yokote Station down to Yokote Castle. There are kamakura built beside houses throughout the neighborhood and hundreds of small kamakura, the size of lanterns can be seen along the Yokote River. Within the larger kamakura there is a snow altar dedicated to the water deity to whom people pray to for ample water. There is also a charcoal grill to provide warmth and on which rice cakes are grilled. Children invite visitors into their kamakura and offer them warm rice cakes and warm amazake (sweet rice wine) in return for an offering to the deity.

Yokote Castle which is normally closed to visitors from December – March is opened during the festival from 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM, giving visitors an opportunity to view the city below from its observation deck.

As with any festival in Japan there are food stalls set up throughout, offering all kinds of local festival delicacies.

If you do not get an opportunity to see the snow houses during the festival, the Kamakurakan Hall displays a few kamakura year round in a -10˚C room. If you are fortunate enough to visit Akita during the Yokote Kamakura Matsuri, take advantage of the children’s hospitality in the kamakura and enjoy the breathtaking nighttime views of Yokote City illuminated with hundreds of lights emitted from the snow houses.

To reach Yokote City, take the Akita Shinkansen from Tokyo to Omagari Station (3.5 hours). From there local trains run hourly to Yokote Station and the journey is a mere 20 minutes to your final destination.


Japan: Hyogo / Himeji (Yukata Festival / 姫路ゆかたまつり )

Most visitors to Himeji City are drawn there because of the beautiful Himeji Castle and Engyoji Temple on Mount Shosha, but did you know there is another attraction Himeji is known for, which draws over 200,000 visitors to Hyogo’s second largest city?  It is the Himeji Yukata Matsuri, which takes place in late June. The tradition goes back to a ceremony that took place about 260 years ago when the lord of Himeji Castle moved the Osakabe Shrine to downtown Himeji. Himeji Castle was built on the former grounds of the shrine, therefore, common folks could not visit or pray at the shrine. Moving the shrine to downtown Himeji meant that everyone could easily have access to the shrine and a celebration ensued.  However, the ceremony took place on such short notice that the citizens of Himeji did not have enough time or money to prepare their formal kimonos.  Instead, they were permitted to wear their summer yukatas and thus the Yukata Festival began.

In the beginning, the event was simply referred to as the Yukata Matsuri but since more and more yukata festivals were popping up across Japan, it was eventually renamed the Himeji Yukata Matsuri. The event runs three days and consists of a yukata parade, a yukata fashion show and various live dance and musical performances. It is considered the oldest and largest festival of its type in Japan with over 800 vendors. You can even gain free access to Himeji Castle if you are dressed in a yukata!

The yukata differs from the kimono in that it is made from a light cotton material with bright colors and patterns and is typically worn during the summer months. Although it is common to see men and women wearing yukatas during the summer festivals, the garment represents the main component of this particular festival and it is estimated that 70% of all festival goers at the Himeji Yukata Matsuri attend wearing their yukatas. Of course, if you do not own a yukata, you can rent one at the Jokamachi Style shop near Himeji Castle as well as other places around town.

The festival runs from 4:30 PM to 9:30 PM and is free to attend. Access to the festival is relatively easy as the city lies along the Sanyo Shinkansen line.  The destination is approximately 40 minutes from Kobe and 3 hours away from Tokyo.

Osakabe shrine

Osakabe shrine


Men's Yukata

Men’s Yukata

Women's Yukata

Women’s Yukata

Wed page:       http://www.hyogo-tourism.jp/english/whatsnew/index.php?id=149

Address:          33 Tatemachi, Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture 670-0903

Japan: Aichi Prefecture / Nagoya (Atsuta Matsuri/ 熱田まつり )

The 1,900 year old Atsuta Jingu Shrine is host to 70 festivals throughout the year but the largest and most auspicious of these is the Atsuta Matsuri (Shobu-sai). The shrine, hidden among 1,000 year old cypress trees, is located in Nagoya in the Aichi Prefecture. It is said to be the home of the legendary Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi or the Sacred Sword Kusanagi, one of the three Imperial regalia.

On June 5th of every year, the Atsuta celebration takes place with parades, taiko drumming, martial arts displays and fireworks. The highlight of the festival is the five Kento Makiwara, large floats decorated with 365 lanterns. These floats are displayed at the entrance gates to the shrine and are lit up between the hours of 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM.

The Atsuta festivities begin at 10:00 AM with a special ceremony held in front of the shrine’s main sanctuary. Here, the Emperor’s messenger and the shrine’s priests pay homage to the gods of the shrine. A special dance called the Atsuta Kagura is performed to the tune of Japanese flutes and taiko drums. It is said that this local dance has been performed at the shrine since the shrine’s inception 1,900 years ago. The word kagura means god entertainment and refers to a form of Shinto theatrical dance that predates Noh. Visitors to the shrine during the matsuri will also have an opportunity to see kyudo (Japanese archery) and kendo (type of Japanese fencing).

In the evening, night stalls line the temple grounds offering delicious local delicacies and traditional matsuri fare. The fireworks take place at the Jingu Koen (Park) from 7:50 PM to 9:00 PM.

The festival is free to attend and the shrine can easily be accessed via the JR Tokaido Line from Nagoya Station to Atsuta Station.

Address:                      1-1-1 Jingu-Nishi, Atsuta-ku, Nagoya

Website                       http://www.atsutajingu.or.jp/jingu/shinto/reisai.html/


Japan: Traditions (Chochin/ 提灯)

In the third installment of Japanese traditions, I’d like to introduce you to one of three forms of traditional lighting in Japan called “chochin” (提灯). It is perhaps the oldest form of lighting, with records dating back to 1085 and perhaps the most popular in terms of being used for matsuri and events. The traditional chochin is made from paper or silk stretched over a split bamboo frame that is wound in a spiral. The lamp is collapsible and is hung from a hook at the top. Its main purpose is outside illumination and you will find them strung together and hung outside Shinto shrines. You will also find chochin hung in front of restaurant buildings all over Japan. The akachochin (red lantern) typically signifies an izakaya (a traditional Japanese drinking establishment.) It was originally used in the Yoshiwara district (red light district) to light the way of visitors but today it has lost that association.

Chochin hanging from the pleasure boat on Sumida River



Another form of folding lantern called Odawara chochin appeared in Japan during the Edo Period (1600-1868) and was used by travelers to light their path during the night. Later, the Bura chochin, round in shape and resembling a tea container became popular among travelers. They were hung from the end of a short brass rod which the samurai used as a weapon for self-defense.

Bura chochin

Bura chochin

Today, you can find chochin made from plastic and illuminated by a light bulb sold in souvenir shops both in Japan and abroad. The chochin is recognized worldwide as an icon of Japan and has been elevated to a symbol of celebration in modern Japanese society. As a matter of fact, every year from October 4th-6th, Nihonmatsu in Fukushima Prefecture hosts the Nihonmatsu Chochin Matsuri (Festival). The festival dates back to over 360 years ago and consists of 3,000 chochin illuminated and paraded around the city on taiko drum floats.

Nihonmatsu Chochin Matsuri

The omamori, the noren and the chochin are all a part of the time-honored culture of Japan. We are very fortunate that these traditions still live on today in modern Japan, enabling visitors to experience its history and customs. Whether you are visiting Japan for the first time or if this is several of many visits to this magnificent country, now you are armed with the knowledge and information to help you understand and appreciate some of what you see during your travels.


Ohio: Columbus ( Rock on the Range)

Having debuted on May 19, 2007, Rock on the Range is an annual rock festival featuring mainstream rock bands such as ZZ Top, Slipknot, Judas Priest, Linkin Park, Ministry and even Marilyn Manson . The festival originated in Columbus, Ohio at what was then called Crew Stadium. The stadium is now called MAPFRE Stadium and last year it was host to 120,000 music fans from all over the country.


When the festival first began, it ran from noon until 11:00 PM for one day and hosted 35,000 attendees. It featured 14 bands on two stages. The following year, it was decided to turn the festival into an annual event and on June 27, 2007 a second venue in Winnipeg, Manitoba was added (Canad Inns Stadium). The Columbus event takes place in mid-May and has gone from a one day event to a three day event featuring 60 bands on three stages. Rock on the Range has even added a standup comedy tent and managed to completely sell out the entire venue in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Ticket prices range from $50-$65 per day depending on whether or not the ticket holder wants field access.







Ernie Ball Stage

Ernie Ball Stage

Like A Storm

Like A Storm

Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson

Mark Tremonti

Mark Tremonti







Festivals are once again becoming popular all over the world, whether it is the Rock on the Range Festival in Columbus, the Download Festival in Derby, England, Lollapalooza in Chicago or the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, fans gather from far and wide to enjoy several days of music, food and fun. In 2015, the Rock on the Range Festival even featured two Japanese acts, Babymetal and Vamps and it appears that the event is gaining momentum as the years go by.

If you have never attended a rock festival, make a point of seeing at least one in your lifetime. It is a fun and relatively inexpensive way to see a multitude of performers in a casual setting and a good way to keep the music alive.

Web Page: http://rockontherange.com/

Address: 1 Black and Gold Boulevard, Columbus, Ohio 43211-2091