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The Gion Festival, or Gion Matsuri, has been celebrated consistently for over a thousand years and is one of the most famous festivals in Japan. The highlight is the Yamahoko Parade which occurs twice, on July 17 and July 24, and our competition winner’s wish was to see it happen with her own eyes here in Japan. This year, with a incoming typhoon, there were rumors swirling about the festival being cancelled, but with hardly any interruptions in its long history, this parade wasn’t about to be stopped by mere weather!

When we first posted about our Japan Wish competition, we asked our readers to submit a video telling us what wish they wanted to have granted here in Japan. From the many wonderful entries we chose our winner, Ashley, whose dream it was to see the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto. This was the day her dream came true.

However, there’s always one part of a trip that can’t be planned for – the weather. Unfortunately there just happened to be a typhoon blowing across the country on the day of the main parade of the festival, but despite strong winds and heavy rain the show still went on.

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On the night prior to the main parade, referred to as Yoiyama, Kyoto’s central streets are closed to traffic and festivalgoers cram into the area. You can take in the sights of a traditional Japanese festival on a grand scaleyattai, or street stalls, selling yakitori, yakisoba, takoyaki, and so on, girls dressed in beautiful yukata, and of course plenty of beer. Visitors also have the rare opportunity to see valuable family heirlooms as some private homes in the old kimono merchant district put their treasures on display for the public in a tradition known as the Byobu Matsuri, or Folding Screen Festival.

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The Yamahoko Parade is a parade of floats that called Hoko and Yama, hence the name Yamahoko. The nine large Hoko have long poles on the top to represent the spears used in the festival when it originated as a purification ritual, and the 23 smaller Yama carry life-sized figures of important people. All are gorgeously decorated and gilded with gold leaf.

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During the year, local families store and maintain the floats in the old merchant area of the city, and as festival time draws near a meeting is held and lots are drawn to determine the order of the procession. These huge floats are moved entirely by hand, and as some of them weigh over one tonne this means that turning them around a corner is no small feat. You can see the process of turning one of the Hoko floats in the video above. Despite the whipping rain and wind, men perched themselves high up on top of the dangerously swaying float, and the people pulling the huge contraptions fought through the weather in traditional outfits. Floats, lanterns, and other important objects were covered with plastic sheets to protect them from the elements.

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Despite the abominable weather, the parade went ahead as usual, following the same route it has taken for over a thousand years. And Ashley wasn’t one to be defeated by a little rain, either, keeping her spirits up throughout the very wet day and night. As she says in the video, the Gion Matsuri is an incredibly impressive spectacle that shows how humans could, and still can, work together to accomplish great things even without modern technology. Ashley says that witnessing it is definitely something to go on your bucket list, and I’m sure that many would agree. So be sure to stick it on your must-see list — and let’s just hope that the weather is better in the years to come!

All photos © RocketNews24