Koi Yama

 The Carp Float

koi yama carp statue shinto gion festival kyoto japan 0026

This humble carp represents a profound spiritual and physiological metaphor.


The Koi (“Carp”) float is topped by a Shintō shrine adorned with a wooden carving of a giant carp, swimming up carved wooden waves combined with spun hemp, representing a waterfall. The big fish isn’t a deity per se; it refers to an ancient Japanese legend about a carp that persevered against the downward deluge, finally and miraculously succeeding in reaching the top of a waterfall. Thereupon it transformed into a celestial dragon, and flew off effortlessly into the sky.

From this legend, the koi has become a popular folklore symbol in Japan, inspiring us to overcome any daunting odds. A more esoteric tradition symbolizes the culmination of the ultimate challenge: overcoming the suffering tied to our ego clinging, resulting in the rising of kundalini energy at the moment of satori, or enlightenment.

In addition to their spiritual value, the festival’s sacred statues are centuries old, and artistic masterpieces in their own right.

koi yama treasure display courtyard gion festival kyoto japan

The Koi Yama treasure display area opens up after a narrow walkway, a traditional urban planning and architectural style of old Kyoto.

Koi Yama’s chōnai is proud of its 16th-century Gobelin tapestry, a Japanese Important Cultural Property that was long ago divided up to fit the sides of its float.

In 1979 the Koi Yama chōnai commissioned European research on its Gobelin (see Niwatori Boko for more on the Gobelin tapestries). The study revealed that the three Gobelins in the Gion Festival are the only known ones extant worldwide depicting scenes from the Trojan War. Koi Yama’s shows King Priam and Queen Hecuba. They’re believed to have been gifts from the Pope Paolo V to Daimyō Date Masamune‘s diplomatic/trade mission to Europe in the early 17th century, just before the Tokugawa shōgun closed Japan to limit foreign influence.





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