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Gion Matsuri, the World’s Oldest Urban Festival, comes to Portland Japanese Garden

Photo by Akira Nakata

Portland, Ore  Starting September 15 through November 4, Portland Japanese Garden is bringing a little bit of Gion Matsuri straight from Kyoto to the Pacific Northwest.

During opening weekend, September 15-16, the Garden’s celebration includes a troupe of 20 Gion Bayashi festival musicians from Kyoto, to perform the unique festival sounds on brass chimes and flutes that accompany the Naginata boko lead float in the procession.  The performances will take place in the afternoons in the Garden’s Cultural Village.

As part of the 6-week exhibition, the Ayagasa-Hoko float and accompanying costumes are being brought over from Kyoto and will be displayed in the Garden’s Pavilion Gallery. For those who have not witnessed the festival in person, it is a rare opportunity to see one of the original, authentic floats in person. The Ayagasa-Hoko has a lacquered cart that features a large parasol, atop of which rides a gilded cockerel, representing one of the gods that preside over festival. Additional photographs by Akira Nakata, one of Kyoto’s top photographers, will also be on view.

Named after Yasaka Shrine (known locally as Gion-sha) in the Gion District of Kyoto, the Gion festival has been held in Kyoto since 869 and is said to be the oldest continuous urban festival in the world.  Originally held to appease the gods and scare away the plague during an epidemic, it continues to be a colorful and vibrant celebration that takes over the streets of downtown Kyoto each July.  The festival culminates with a procession on July 17 with elaborately decorated floats pulled through the streets, some weighing as much as 12 tons. The floats have unique themes, and are adorned with gilded carvings, and priceless woven and dyed textiles from all over the world.  They’re so exquisite that they are often referred to as, “mobile art museums.”

Festival Exhibition Details

Dates: September 15 – November 4 (musicians here Sept 15-16 only)

Hours of Operation: see website for Seasonal hours

Price: included with Garden Admission; Adult tickets are $16.95

About Portland Japanese GardenSince it opened to the public in 1967, Portland Japanese Garden has been immersing visitors in beautiful scenery while they experience the art and culture of Japan. Celebrated as one of the most authentic Japanese Gardens outside of Japan, Portland Japanese Garden features eight separate garden styles on its 12-acre site.