Brave as a Mantis
A Chinese proverb relates that, though a mantis is not strong enough to stop an oxcart, it may be brash enough to give it a try.
This float is dedicated to a 14th-century Kyoto noble, Shijō Takasuke, who unsuccessfully took on an enemy much stronger than he, the future shōgun Ashikaga Yoshiakira. The Shijō clan lived in this area; it’s said that 25 years after his death (1367) his family contributed this float, depicting a mantis automata atop an oxcart, to the Gion Festival procession. It was surely a bold political statement for the time – apparently hutzpah ran in the family.
This float was destroyed by the great 1864 fire, and reintroduced in 1981. Remarkably, the oxcart and mantis survived and were preserved, and a master artisan was available to get it in working order and operate it during the festival. The mantis’ mechanization must have been a wonder in centuries past. Tamaya Shōbei IX travels from Nagoya each year to manipulate the mantis, a type of automata called karakuri ningyō.
All four main tapestries are contemporary works by the famous yūzen dyeing artist and Living National Treasure, Tokio Hata.
The reintroduction of a float is a major commitment by a community, at a time when economics and urbanization are making for more businesses and temporary residents in downtown Kyoto. At Ennogyōja Yama you can see a map that shows where floats existed at various points in time. There are 23 yama and 10 hoko today, and some report that at one time there were 49 yama.