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Boat party on the river is being reproduced annually

Mifune Matsuri is an annual festival organised by Kurumazaki Jinja located in Arashiyama. It is held every year on the third Sunday in May. It is believed that the origin of this festival is dated more than 1,000 years ago. The ceremony performed during the festival is said to be used to receive the Emperor who set his foot on this land.

Kurumazaki Jinja

The Mikoshi is being pulled to the boat

During the climax of the Mifune Matsuri, Kiyohara’s soul is transferred to a boat called gozabune. The boat is taken to the middle of the Oi River where it remains for 2-3 hours. Then ships carrying artists and prominent figures, pay respect by approaching the sacred boat, performing dance, playing music, and reciting poems.

Participating boat

Among the 20 boats “parading” on the river, Gozabune is considered the most important one. It is because it carries a portable shrine, also known as mikoshi with the spirit of the deity in it.

Ryūtōsen, boat with a head of dragon

Then there are two ships with decorative figureheads: Ryūtōsen (龍頭船) with a head of the dragon and Gekisusen (鷁首) with a head of the legendary Chinese bird. Dragon-head ship carries dancers and artists, while the other one is used by the tea ceremony masters.

Gekisusen, boat with the legendary Chinese bird

After a ritual held at the shrine at noon, people dressed in ancient costumes proceed along the beautiful Togetsukyo Bridge and board the boats. Their costumes are very colorful, and you will also see cute little children who are dressed in kimono, too. Also interesting are the boats which have dragon heads or birds’ heads designed on the prow. Each boat has its assigned role, for example, there is a boat carrying musicians who play music, while dance performances are given on another boat, or poetry is recited on a different boat. Sensu fans of all colors are floated on the water surface by ladies dressed in 12 layers of kimono known as juni-hitoe, producing a most exquisite and graceful spectacle.

Traditional dances from Heian period is performed on the boat

Kiyohara Yorinari

Kiyohara Yorinari was a 12th century Confucian scholar who is enshrined in Kurumazaki Shrine. He led a happy life as a member of a prominent family in the Heian period. He seems to be lucky after his death – too. Every year in May his soul is taken for a walk, accompanied by a number of ladies in colorful attires.

Like usually in such cases, his spirit is transferred to a mikoshi portable shrine and then carried to the otabisho (a temporary resting place) on the bank of the Oi River.

Kiyohara Yorinari

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