The origins of the festival go back to the journeys to Edo and Kyoto made by wealthy merchants who had succeeded in the in Izawa-Keifun business. These merchants brought back elements of Edo’s celebrations and Kyoto’s Gion Festival and integrated them into what gained popularity as the Izawa Gion Festival, starting in the Genroku period.
Izawa-cho is divided into six resident’s teams, with each group maintaining one large and one small Yatai (festival floats) for a total of twelve Yatai in all.
There are two Mikoshi at Isawa Shrine. One was constructed in the Genroku period (1688-1704), and the other was remodeled in the Meiji era (1868-1912).
At 1 PM six small Yatai assemble in front of the Kokubun family’s house. These floats are paraded to Isawa Shrine where they gather on its approach.
After the shrine’s Shinto rites conclude at around 2 PM, men carrying the two Mikoshi onto which the spirit of the god has been transferred head into Isawa-cho along with the small Yatai and make their way to the Otabisho (Dainichido) where the Mikoshi are put on display.
The Mikoshi march through Shinde-cho and Ura-machi and after being placed at the Otabisho the gods are offered food and drinks. As dusk approaches, the climax of “Yoimiya,” the festival’s eve—hauling out the big Yatai—is about to begin.
The sounds of flutes, drums and other musical instruments issue from the big Yatai with their swinging Chochin lanterns.
These spectacular Yatai, both large and small, gather at the Otabisho, and the place takes on an air of fantasy.
The small Yatai and Mikoshi depart the Otabisho at 9 AM.
The procession of Mikoshi and Yatai marches through Shimono-cho, Nakano-cho, Ogura-cho, and Kamino-cho.
The men bellow the spirited cheer of ““CHOUSAHYAH” as over and over they perform “Yokoyusuri”—swinging the Yatai broadly to the right and left, and “Tateyusuri”—hurling it upwards from just above the ground and then letting it drop down again. Watching this thrills all the festival’s onlookers.
At 8 PM, the Mikoshi, led by white-clad escorts called Okabito and surrounded by large paper lanterns, join the lantern-illuminated small Yatai and set out from the gate of Enmeiji Temple, and parade through the darkness of night. The scene looks as picturesque as an emaki Japanese scroll painting.
When the clock rounds ten, the accompanying small Yatai go back to their respective neighborhoods and the Mikoshi return to the Shrine, where the spirits of the gods are restored to their rightful places.