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Kyoto's Festival of the Ages
A look at the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages) of Kyoto: Part II
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2005-11-01 15:12 (KST)   

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An Imperial Guard - statues of these guards can be found at certain Shinto shrines
©2005 D.Weber
Court nobles and Imperial guards represent the Fujiwara Period (897-1185), a time when the powerful noble family, the Fujiwara, controlled the governance of the country as ministers to the imperial court. One of the most powerful Fujiwara ministers was Fujiwara-no-Michinaga (966-1027). He arranged to have his daughters marry the emperors and have his grandson of one of these unions ascend the throne. In time the Fujiwaras' power weakened and they had to rely more often on the warrior families, chiefly the Heike and the Genji, to control the country. Eventually, the Fujiwara would be succeeded by the military Heike family who in turn were destroyed by the Genji in the Gempei War.

The fierce Tomoe Gozen - samurai warrior woman
©2005 D. Weber
Following in the train of the Fujiwara nobles comes some of the most famous women of Japanese history. Astride a horse dressed in samurai armor carrying the deadly long-bladed naginata is Tomoe Gozen. Tomoe fought beside her husband, Minamoto-no-Yoshinaka, as one of his most trusted captains in the Gempei War. In 1183, Yoshinaka captured Kyoto from Heike forces. His success went to his head and his ever-suspicious cousin, Yoritomo, ordered his half-brother, Yoshitsune, to destroy the would-be upstart. Tomoe fought gloriously in her husband's last battle. Reports of her end are mixed. Some say she died in battle, others that she took Yoshinaka's head with her and perished in the sea, and others say she ended her days as a nun.

Famous Writers of the 11th Century: Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu
©2005 D.Weber
The writers Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu follow the warlike Tomoe. Sei Shonagon (966-1025) was a sharp-witted lady of the court whose observations of courtly life are preserved in her famous work: "Makura-no-Soshi" (The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon). Murasaki Shikibu (980-1014), also a lady of the court, penned the internationally renowned classic, the "Genji Monogatari" (Tale of the Genji).

The first Shogun and his troops returning after a successful campaign
©2005 D.Weber
The next military procession is of the early samurai warriors of the 9th century led by General Sakanoue Tamuramaro. Sakanoue was the first military commander to be named "Shogun" by Emperor Kammu. Originally, the title "shogun" was given temporarily to military leaders to subdue the turbulent Ezo (Ainu) natives of Tohoku, the northern region of Japan. This procession depicts the triumphant return of the Shogun Sakanoue after a successful campaign.

A court noble from Kyoto's early days
©2005 D.Weber
Court nobles wearing straight swords come next to greet the emperor of the early Heian Period (794-1185). The colors of their robes signify their rank.

Boys dressed in colorful costumes with bird wings on their backs
©2005 D.Weber
Children wearing colorful costumes with the wings of butterflies or mythical birds on their backs precede the arrival of the mikoshi (portable shrine) of Emperors Kammu and Komei.

Mikoshi - portable shrine - of the spirit of the first and last reigning emperors in Kyoto
©2005 D.Weber
The Shinko-Retsu (Procession of the Sacred Carriages) brings a close to the Jidai Matsuri. The two mikoshi transfer the spirits of Kammu and Komei to the Heian Shrine.

Late 8th Century Archer who guarded Emperor Kammu's procession into Kyoto on Oct. 22, 794
©2005 D.Weber
Accompanying the mikoshi are 8th - 9th century archers from the Tamba region noted for their skills with the bow. When Emperor Kammu first moved the capital to Kyoto, these archers guarded his sacred procession into his new capital.

A Poet of an earlier age peaks out at the modern world
©2005 D.Weber
©2005 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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