Japan Tradition: Aoi Matsuri

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Il Festival della Malvarosa

photo credits: mutabi.wordpress.com

L’Aoi Matsuri (葵祭) si svolge ogni anno il 15 maggio ed uno dei tre festival più famosi di Kyoto, insieme al Gion Matsuri e al Jidai Matsuri. L’attrazione principale è una grande parata, in cui oltre 500 persone si vestono nello stile aristocratico del periodo Heian (794-1185) e percorrono la strada che, dai piedi dal Palazzo Imperiale, conduce al Tempio di Kamo. Questo è il nome comune con cui ci si riferisce al complesso shintoista formato dal santuario Kamigamo e dal santuario Shimogamo. I membri della processione portano delle foglie di Malvarosa, da cui il nome ‘Aoi’, che in giapponese significa proprio “alcea rosea” o “malvarosa”. Le foglie di questa pianta, dai colori luminosi e dai fiori bellissimi, avrebbero il potere di proteggere i raccolti dai disastri atmosferici.

photo credits: amanohashidate.jp, Nobuhiro Suhara

Le Origini

Il festival ebbe origine durante il regno dell’imperatore Kinmei (539 – 571), quando un periodo di forti piogge devastò i raccolti e il paese fu invaso dalle epidemie. Il triste evento venne attribuito alle divinità Kamo intenzionate a punire la popolazione. Per placare la loro ira, l’imperatore inviò un suo messaggero con delle offerte al tempio e con il compito di condurre rituali che comprendevano anche una corsa in sella a cavalli galoppanti. La cavalcata si trasformò in un’usanza annuale con l’intento di allontanare il pericolo di un nuovo disastro.

photo credit: Alex Hurst, Clement Koh

Durante il regno dell’Imperatore Monmu (697 – 707) essa venne però proibita poiché troppe persone erano giunte per assistere al rituale. Nel 19° secolo, l’imperatore Kanmu stabilì il trono a Kyoto dando inizio al periodo Heian nella storia giapponese. L’imperatore riconobbe le divinità Kamo come protettrici della capitale e introdusse l’Aoi Matsuri come evento imperiale annuale. Durante i vari periodi storici, il festival subì altre interruzioni, soprattutto durante la seconda guerra mondiale, ma riprese attivamente la sua celebrazione nel 1953.
Nel 1956 ebbe inizio anche la tradizione della principessa del festival: Saiō-Dai.

photo credits: regex.info

I Personaggi del Festival

Durante l’Aoi Matsuri appaiono due figure rappresentative: la Saiō-Dai e il Messaggero Imperiale.
La Saiō-Dai era una donna che veniva scelta tra le sorelle e le figlie dell’imperatore per dedicarsi al Tempio di Shimogamo. Il ruolo di Saiō-Dai era di mantenere la purezza rituale e di rappresentare l’Imperatore al festival. Oggi il ruolo di Saiō-Dai è interpretato da una donna scelta tra tutte le donne nubili di Kyoto. Ella indossa 12 diversi strati di seta (jūnihitoe) squisitamente colorata nello stile tradizionale della corte Heian. Per mantenere la purezza, la Saiō-Dai si sottopone a diverse cerimonie di purificazione prima della processione del festival.

photo credit: Hong Seongwan

Il Messaggero Imperiale, invece, conduce la processione del festival a cavallo.
Durante il periodo Heian sarebbe stato un cortigiano di quinto rango che ricopriva l’incarico di capitano di rango medio o inferiore, e di solito era un uomo destinato a un alto ufficio. Il suo ruolo era di leggere il rescritto imperiale dei santuari e presentare le offerte dell’imperatore. Durante il periodo Heian, la Saiō-Dai e il Messaggero Imperiale sarebbero stati accompagnati da dieci ballerini e dodici musicisti.

photo credits: Hisanori

La Celebrazione Oggi

Solitamente, la processione inizia alle 10:30 del 15 maggio partendo dal Palazzo Imperiale di Kyoto, e lentamente si avvia verso due tappe. La prima tappa è il Tempio di Shimogamo, al quale giunge intorno alle 11:15 e, successivamente, il Tempio di Kamigamo, al quale giunge intorno alle 15:30. Raggiunti i templi, la Saiō-Dai e il Messaggero Imperiale eseguono i loro rituali.
La Saiō-Dai offre semplicemente i suoi rispetti alle divinità, mentre il Messaggero Imperiale intona il rescritto imperiale lodando le divinità e chiedendo il loro continuo favore.

photo credits: Slugicide, find-your-jpn.com

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The Hollyhock Festival

photo credits: mutabi.wordpress.com

One of Kyoto’s three most well-known festivals, Aoi Matsuri (葵祭) takes place every year on the 15th of May. The name of this festival derives from the hollyhock leaves that participants in the festival’s parade carry with them as they walk down the designated route. In Japanese, “Aoi” (葵) refers to the “alcea rosea” or, as the namesake of this festival, the “hollyhock”. This plant produces brilliant colours and beautiful flowers, and its leaves are believed to have the power to prevent natural disasters.

The main attraction of this festival is a grand parade that involves more than 500 people dressing up in the aristocratic styles of the Heian period (794 – 1185 CE).
This annual parade starts from the Imperial Palace, and the participants will walk down the road until they arrive at Kamo Shrine. This name refers to the shinto sanctuary complex that consists of Kamigamo shrine and Shimogamo shrine.

photo credits: amanohashidate.jp, Nobuhiro Suhara

The Origins

The festival first started during the reign of Emperor Kinmei (539 – 571CE), when a period of heavy rains ruined the harvest and an epidemic spread through the country.

It was believed that these tragedies came about because the Kamo deities wanted to punish the people. Thus, the emperor sent a messenger to the temple with offerings and to perform various rituals in order to appease these deities. Part of these rituals also required the riding of a galloping horse.

photo credit: Alex Hurst, Clement Koh

This became an annual event with the intention of preventing further disasters. However, during the reign of Emperor Monmu (697 – 707CE), it was suspended due to the huge amount of people joining to watch the rituals. In the 19° century, Emperor Kanmu established the seat of the imperial throne in Kyoto and this represented the beginning of the Heian period in Japanese history. The emperor recognised the Kamo deities as protectors of the capital and reestablished the Aoi Matsuri as an annual imperial event. The festival was sometimes discontinued in some periods of Japanese history, especially during World War II, but it was actively resumed in 1953. The Saiō-Dai tradition in this festival was also initiated in 1956.

photo credits: regex.info

The characters of the Festival

There are two main characters in the Aoi Matsuri: the Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger.
The Saiō-Dai is a woman chosen from the sisters and daughters of the emperor to dedicate herself to the Shimogamo Shrine. The role of the Saiō-Dai is to maintain spiritual purity and represent the Emperor at the festival. Today the Saiō-Dai is chosen from all unmarried women of Kyoto. She wears twelve layers of silk robes (jūnihitoe), finely colored in the traditional style of the Heian court. To maintain ritual purity the Saiō-Dai has to go through several ceremonies of purification before the festival’s parade.

photo credit: Hong Seongwan

The Imperial Messenger, on the other hand, conducts the procession of the festival by riding a horse. During the Heian period, he would be a Fifth-Rank courtier holding office of middle or lesser capitan. He was also typically a man destined for high office. His role was to read the imperial edict and present the emperor’s offerings. During the Heian period, the Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger would be accompanied by ten dancers and twelve musicians.

photo credits: Hisanori

Celebrations Today

The parade starts at 10:30 a.m. on May 15th at Kyoto’s Imperial Palace. It then slowly departs for two important stops: the Shimogamo Shrine, where the procession should arrive at 11:15 a.m., and the Kamigamo Shrine, where they will arrive at 3:30 p.m. The Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger perform their rituals at these stops. The Saiō-Dai pays her respects to the deities, while the Imperial Messenger intones the imperial rescript, praising the deities and requesting their continued favor.

photo credits: Slugicide, find-your-jpn.com

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The Hollyhock Festival

photo credits: mutabi.wordpress.com

One of Kyoto’s three most well-known festivals, Aoi Matsuri (葵祭) takes place every year on the 15th of May. The name of this festival derives from the hollyhock leaves that participants in the festival’s parade carry with them as they walk down the designated route. In Japanese, “Aoi” (葵) refers to the “alcea rosea” or, as the namesake of this festival, the “hollyhock”. This plant produces brilliant colours and beautiful flowers, and its leaves are believed to have the power to prevent natural disasters.

The main attraction of this festival is a grand parade that involves more than 500 people dressing up in the aristocratic styles of the Heian period (794 – 1185 CE).
This annual parade starts from the Imperial Palace, and the participants will walk down the road until they arrive at Kamo Shrine. This name refers to the shinto sanctuary complex that consists of Kamigamo shrine and Shimogamo shrine.

photo credits: amanohashidate.jp, Nobuhiro Suhara

The Origins

The festival first started during the reign of Emperor Kinmei (539 – 571CE), when a period of heavy rains ruined the harvest and an epidemic spread through the country.

It was believed that these tragedies came about because the Kamo deities wanted to punish the people. Thus, the emperor sent a messenger to the temple with offerings and to perform various rituals in order to appease these deities. Part of these rituals also required the riding of a galloping horse.

photo credit: Alex Hurst, Clement Koh

This became an annual event with the intention of preventing further disasters. However, during the reign of Emperor Monmu (697 – 707CE), it was suspended due to the huge amount of people joining to watch the rituals. In the 19° century, Emperor Kanmu established the seat of the imperial throne in Kyoto and this represented the beginning of the Heian period in Japanese history. The emperor recognised the Kamo deities as protectors of the capital and reestablished the Aoi Matsuri as an annual imperial event. The festival was sometimes discontinued in some periods of Japanese history, especially during World War II, but it was actively resumed in 1953. The Saiō-Dai tradition in this festival was also initiated in 1956.

photo credits: regex.info

The characters of the Festival

There are two main characters in the Aoi Matsuri: the Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger.
The Saiō-Dai is a woman chosen from the sisters and daughters of the emperor to dedicate herself to the Shimogamo Shrine. The role of the Saiō-Dai is to maintain spiritual purity and represent the Emperor at the festival. Today the Saiō-Dai is chosen from all unmarried women of Kyoto. She wears twelve layers of silk robes (jūnihitoe), finely colored in the traditional style of the Heian court. To maintain ritual purity the Saiō-Dai has to go through several ceremonies of purification before the festival’s parade.

photo credit: Hong Seongwan

The Imperial Messenger, on the other hand, conducts the procession of the festival by riding a horse. During the Heian period, he would be a Fifth-Rank courtier holding office of middle or lesser capitan. He was also typically a man destined for high office. His role was to read the imperial edict and present the emperor’s offerings. During the Heian period, the Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger would be accompanied by ten dancers and twelve musicians.

photo credits: Hisanori

Celebrations Today

The parade starts at 10:30 a.m. on May 15th at Kyoto’s Imperial Palace. It then slowly departs for two important stops: the Shimogamo Shrine, where the procession should arrive at 11:15 a.m., and the Kamigamo Shrine, where they will arrive at 3:30 p.m. The Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger perform their rituals at these stops. The Saiō-Dai pays her respects to the deities, while the Imperial Messenger intones the imperial rescript, praising the deities and requesting their continued favor.

photo credits: Slugicide, find-your-jpn.com

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