Hanagasa Junko at Gion Matsuri
Along with Iwami Kagura (July 16), my favorite event of Gion Matsuri is Hanagasa Junko, the Flower Hat Procession, on July 24. Hanagasa Junko begins at 10:00 a.m. at Yasaka Shrine, but much of the action for photographers takes place in the hour before the parade starts when many of the participants pose for pictures like the two woman featured here. As the name implies, many of the participants in Hanagasa Junko are wearing some kind of hat with flowers. There are several portable shrines in the procession as well, but these are pulled by groups of children, not men as is the case at all the main events of Gion Matsuri.
The procession makes its way west down Shijo Dori, goes north on Kawaramachi, heads west on Oike Dori, turns south on Teramachi, and returns to Yasaka Shrine via Shijo Dori again. The whole trip takes place in just under two hours under Kyoto's scorching summer sun. A short while after the procession ends, there are a series of excellent traditional Japanese culture performances back at Yasaka Shrine, including lion dances, a taiko (Japanese drum) troupe, a Japanese percussion troupe, dances by maiko from two of Kyoto's five geisha districts, and more.
Some people follow the parade from beginning to end, but if you are interested in photographing any of the performances at Yasaka Shrine, I recommend you head back there by 11:30 a.m. or earlier to get a good spot. Don't worry, you won't miss many photo opportunities of the procession if you leave a little early because most of the performers have unfortunately wilted under the summer sun by the time they make the return trip to the shrine. The only women who manage to stay quite fresh are the maiko, but they ride in floats and are shaded from the sun. Most of the participants walk the entire time, and the only shade they have is their flower hats.
By the way, I tried to get one of the maiko I know who participated this year to give me her flower hat in exchange for my Irish cap. I have very fair skin that burns very easily, so I could have used the added protection her hat would have given me. For some reason, she wouldn't agree to the exhange even though the men pushing her float seemed to think my request was a reasonable one. Maybe next year...