Special Feature
KENBOKO-Hereditary Treasures of Kyoto Festivals


What is a kenboko?
The kenboko is a ritual apparatus used to appease evil spirits. In festivals, it takes the lead position during the passage of mobile shrines. The shape of the kenboko has been linked to such ancient weapons as bronze swords and halberds, although the connection is by no means definite.
Of more certainty, is its association with belief in the spirits of the dead, during the Heian Period. In 869, during the first Gion Goryoe (meaning "service for souls"; later to become Gion Matsuri), 66 tall spears (hoko) were erected in Shinsen Garden, after which prayers were offered in the hope of driving away the pestilence then ravaging the city. Nenjugyoji Emaki, a series of picture scrolls depicting annual events from the Heian Period, show a festival hoko leading the passage of a mobile shrine during Gion Goryoe. Historical materials from around the beginning of the Muromachi Period show kenboko in forms close to those of the present day. The rakuchu-rakugai-zu folding screen illustrations in the Uesugi Family Book from the late Muromachi Period show a Goryo-sha kenboko procession.
Gion Goryoe: a scene from Nenjugyoji Emaki
(Heian Period)



Goryo-sha kenboko togyo: from the Rakuchu-rakugai-zu (Uesugi Family Book; in the possession of Yonezawa City)


Toya-kazari of Kenboko
Kenboko serve to appease evil spirits by appearing in festivals in a ritual called kenboko-zashi (bearing of the kenboko). People who come under the protection of the deity to whom the shrine is dedicated are responsible for looking after the kenboko. The kenboko themselves are procured by the local community or a Hoko Association.
Myoryo-boko: Awata Shrine
Therefore, kenboko do not usually belong to a shrine. Rather, they are the property of a community in that shrine's jurisdiction, or a Hoko Association. Each year the kenboko is passed to a different residence in the community, where it is feted for the following 12 months. This practice is called toya-kazari.

Examples of Kenboko Toya-kazari

Uritomoe-boko: Awata Shrine

Kurama Fire Festival

Yumiya-boko: Awata Shrine



The Kenboko Form

A kenboko is typically made up of kensaki (point of the sword), shingaku (deity plaque), kazari (ornamentation), fukichiri (standard) and rin (bells). All of these are attached to a long pole.


Kenboko Art

The kensaki is made of thin metal, while the shingaku carries the name of the shrine, the deity to which it is dedicated, and the name of the era from which it derived. Kazari, or ornamentation, includes crests and heraldic emblems of plants and animals, elaborately crafted in metal. Each kenboko takes its name from the kazari designs.
The fukichiri, or standard, is a length of dyed cloth that flies from the top of the pole. As dyeing technology progressed, so did the magnificence of the fukichiri.
Fukichiri on Omodaka-boko: Imamiya Shrine (Kyoto City Designated Tangible Cultural Property).

Takazu-rear piece on Uritomoe-boko: Awata Shrine (drawn by the Japanese artist, Domoto Insho).

Kyoto Kenboko and Matsuri

When carried in procession, the kenboko is placed vertically in a pouch secured around the waist. As the bearer walks, he moves the kenboko back and forth, up and down, all the while ringing the bells. As kenboko are 6`7 metres long and weigh about 60 kg, this kind of movement calls for a high degree of skill. A survey of festivals in Kyoto City from 1984 through 1985 counted 177 kenboko at 35 locations. However, with a decline in the number of bearers, and other factors, preservation of the ritual is becoming increasingly difficult. In some cases, they are used only as decoration for the house, or carried across the shoulder. Elsewhere the pole has been shortened and secured in a frame for carrying, or paraded on a cart. Such instances are no longer uncommon. In 1990, kenboko-zashi (bearing of the kenboko) at four locations in the city were registered as Kyoto City Intangible Cultural Properties: Ichijo-ji Hachidai Shrine, Saiin Kasuga Shrine, Sagano Matsuri and Umegahata Hiraoka Hachiman-gu. Efforts are now being made to preserve the traditional skill of kenboko-zashi.


Kenboko-zashi: Ichijo-ji Hachidai Shrine

Kenboko-zashi: Saiin Kasuga Shrine

Kenboko-zashi: Umegahata Hiraoka Hachiman-gu

Kenboko-zashi: Sagano Matsuri




The Main Kenboko Festivals in Kyoto


Kenboko kazari (ornamentation): Kumano Shrine


Kenboko: Shinsen Garden


Kenboko: Saginomori Shrine


Kenboko procession: Imamiya Shrine


Kenboko: Otoyo Shrine


Kenboko procession: Hachidai Shrine


Kenboko procession: Goryo Shrine


Kenboko procession: Shimogoryo Shrine


Kenboko: Nagi Shrine


Kenboko: Ebisu Shrine


Kenboko procession: Saga Festival


Kenboko: Seimei Shrine


Kenboko procession: Kasuga Shrine


Kenboko procession: Yoshida Shrine, Imamiya Shrine


Kenboko: Hachi Shrine


Kenboko: Fukuoji Shrine
Name of Shrine Festival Date Held Location of Shrine
Kumano
Shrine
Jinko Festival
April 29
Sanno-cho,
Shogoin,
Sakyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Shinsen
Garden
Shinsen Garden Festival
May 1`3
Shinsenen-cho,
Higashi-iru
Monzen-machi,
Oike-dori,
Nakagyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Saginomori
Shrine
Annual Festival
May 4
Miyawaki-cho,
Shugakuin,
Sakyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Imamiya
Shrine
Imamiya Festival
From May 5 to a Sunday near May 15
Imamiya-cho,
Murasakino,
Kita-ku,
Kyoto City
Otoyo
Shrine
Ujigami Festival
May 5
Miyanomae-cho,
Shishigatani,
Sakyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Hachidai
Shrine
Jinko Festival
May 5
Matsubara-cho,
Ichijoji,
Sakyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Jinushi
Shrine
Jinushi Festival
May 5
Kiyomizu
1 chome,
Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City
Suga
Shrine
Jinko Festival
May 10
Marutomi-cho,
Shogoin,
Sakyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Gojo
tenjinsha
(shrine)
Ujiko Festival
October 10
Tenjinmae-cho,
Nishinotoin
Nishi-iru,
Matsubara-dori,
Shimogyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Sugadaijin
Shrine
Annual Festival
2nd Sunday in May
Sugadaijin-cho,
Shinmachi
Nishi-iru,
Bukkoji-dori,
Shimogyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Ichihime
Shrine
Ichihime Festival
Sunday nearest May 13
Motoshiogama
-cho,
Ichihime-dori
sagaru,
Teramachi
Higashi-iru,
Shimogyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Goryo
Shrine
Goryo Festival
May 18
Kamigoryomae
-machi,
Kamigoryomae
-dori,
Karasuma
Higashi-iru,
Kamigyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Shimogoryo
Shrine
Shimogoryo Festival
A Sunday near May 18
Shimogoryomae
-cho,
Teramachi-dori, Marutamachi
-sagaru,
Nakagyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Nagi
Shrine
Jinko Festival
3rd Sunday in May
Mibunaginomiya
-cho,
Nakagyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Ebisu
Shrine
Annual Grand Festival
3rd Sunday in May
Yamato Oji-dori, Shijo-sagaru,
Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City
Atago
Shrine
Nonomiya
Shrine
Saga Festival
4th Sunday in May
Atago-cho,
Saga,
Ukyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Nonomiya-cho
Saga,
Ukyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Seimei
Shrine
Jinko Festival
September 23
Seimei-cho,
Yoshiyamachi
-dori,
Ichijo-agaru,
Kamigyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Kitano
Tenmangu
(shrine)
Zuiki Festival
October 1`4
Bakuro-cho,
Kamigyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Kita
shirakawa
Tenjingu
(shrine)
Annual Festival
October 7
Shibuse-cho,
Kitashirakawa,
Sakyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Awata
Shrine
Awata Grand Festival
October 10
Kaji-machi,
Awataguchi,
Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City
Hiraoka Hachimangu
(shrine)
Annual Festival
October 10
Miyanokuchi
-cho,
Umegahata,
Ukyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Kono
shimaza
Amaterasu
Omikami
Shrine
(Kaikono
yashiro)
Annual Festival
October 10
Morinohigashi
-cho,
Uzumasa,
Ukyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Kasuga
Shrine
Kasuga Festival
2nd Sunday in October
Kasuga-cho,
Saiin,
Ukyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Yoshida
Shrine /
Imamiya
Shrine
Imamiya Shrine Annual Festival
2nd Saturday in October
Kaguraoka-cho,
Yoshida,
Sakyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Hachi
Shrine
Autumn Grand Festival
3rd Sunday in October
Ginkakuji-cho,
Sakyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Fukuoji
Shrine
Autumn Grand Festival
3rd Sunday in October
Fukuoji-cho,
Utano,
Ukyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Sumiyoshi
Otomo
Shrine
Jinko Festival
3rd Sunday in October
Sumiyoshi-cho,
Ryoanji,
Ukyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Okazaki
Shrine
Ujiko Grand Festival
October 16
Higashi
Tenno-cho,
Okazaki,
Sakyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Jonangu
(shrine)
Jinko Festival
Sunday nearest October 20
Miyanoato-cho,
Nakajima,
Fushimi-ku,
Kyoto City
Yuki
Shrine
Kurama Fire Festival
October 22
Hon-machi,
Kurama,
Sakyo-ku,
Kyoto City
Iwakura
Shrine
Annual Festival
4th Saturday in October
Kamikura-cho,
Iwakura,
Sakyo-ku,
Kyoto City

Kenboko: Jishu Shrine


Kenboko procession: Suga Shrine


Kenboko: Gojotenjinsha (shrine)


Kenboko: Sugadaijin Shrine


Kenboko: Ichihime Shrine


Kenboko procession: Kitano Tenmangu (shrine)


Kenboko: Kitashirakawa Tenjingu (shrine)


Kenboko: Awata Shrine


Kenboko procession: Hiraoka Hachimangu (shrine)


Kenboko: Konoshimaza Amaterasu Omikami Shrine (Kaikonoyashiro)


Kenboko kazari (ornamentation): Sumiyoshi Otomo Shrine


Kenboko: Okazaki Shrine


Kenboko: Jonangu (shrine)


Kenboko procession: Kurama Fire Festival


Kenboko: Iwakura Shrine

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