Shijō Kasa Boko
An Umbrella and Children’s Dance
The Shijo Kasa Boko embodies what some of the Gion Festival floats probably looked like in the Muromachi Period (1337-1573). History tells us the floats started out as pikes or halberds, and eventually morphed to their current form. Remarkably, it was recently reintroduced to the festival after a 117-year absence, no small undertaking.
The highlight of the Shijo Kasa Boko is its children’s dance and music, unique in the festival procession. Two boys in costume and what are called “bear wigs” dance with long poles, simpler and similar in idea to the dancing at Ayagasa Boko. Six more boys accompany them with various percussion instruments: bells, drums, and clave sticks.
This float’s history is somewhat mysterious: it disappeared in 1872 and there are no records explaining why. A great fire in 1864 destroyed numerous floats, yet it’s known that Ayagasa Boko participated in the Gion Festival from 1864-1871. In the 1975 the chōnai decided to revive its float, and after years of researching, fundraising and other logistics, relaunched the float in 1988.
There’s a sleuthing element to reviving a float; chōnai members researched historic documents and artwork to understand details of what the float, dance and costumes had been like. There are festivals, dances and other cultural forms around Japan that are based on the Gion Festival; in some cases they disappeared in Kyoto, but still exist elsewhere. The research on Shijo Kasa Boko showed that a shrine dance in Shiga Prefecture is closely related to the dance that accompanied this float in bygone centuries. The chōnai referenced this dance in order to revive its own. )