Gion Festival (祇園祭 – Gion Matsuri) is the biggest and most famous festival in Japan. This annual event is held in Kyoto for the entire month of July, the highlight of the festival is on July 17th. The parade on July 17th, consists of two kinds of floats, there are 25 yama floats and 7 hoko floats. Hoko is a giant float on wheels which is 8-meter high and up to 12,000 kg in weight. A Hoko is pushed by 30-40 men. Yama are the small floats carried by several people on their shoulders.
The festival is named after Kyoto’s Gion district. Unfortunately, the main event of the festival isn’t held in Gion district, but it is close to the Kamo River in Kyoto’s downtown for the three nights from the 14th to 16th of July. It is crowded with processions, food vendors, amusements and people which is why the traffic in this area is closed on those days. The processions known as yoiyoiyoiyama (宵々々山) is held on the 14th and 21st of July, yoiyoiyama (宵々山) on the 15th and 22nd of July, the lastly, yoiyama (宵山) on the 16th and 23rd of July. During this festival a lot of people wear yukata.
On the 17th and 24th of July, Yamaboko Junko (山鉾巡行) is held, you can see the 32 floats including seven hoko floats with two stories are decorated with gorgeous woven fabric, dyed textiles and sculptures. The procession takes place in about three-kilometre long route along the Shijo all the way to Karasuma Street on July 17th, and Kawaramachi to Oike Street on July 24th. During the procession, you can see some children wearing make-up and musicians playing the flutes, drums and bells, are seated on the second story of the floats. Many people call these floats ‘portable art museums’.
During the festival, people can buy omamori (good luck charm) at the floats. They made from sasa bamboo grass for warding off the evil.