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THE ART HALL HOKO-ZA, HONCHO 3 CHOME
[Hokoza: PDF]
THE FESTIVAL STAGE OR "YATAI"

The stage was constructed in 1869. Like the festival float, the construction of the stage was sponsored by Isobe Shoshichi, a retailer who had profited in the silk market trade. It was his own idea and plan to build the stage.

There are 12 sliding doors and the stage itself is 7.5 meters wide, 7 meters high and 6.5 meters deep. It is a truly large festival stage and takes on the appearance of a bird with outstretched wings. (There are at present other stages on the same scale preserved in each of the 6 blocks of the Honcho district.) The center stage revolves while there is also a lower level for a festival band. The construction is most unusual in that it includes a "hanamichi" or elevated passageway typically used in Kabuki performances. Under the floor of the stage near the wheels is a 20 cm square oak axle post around which the stage can revolve 180 degrees. This axle post alone supports the weight of the stage.

Like a Zen temple, the stage is constructed with unvarnished wood and adorned with ornamental carvings. The famous Yabuzuka craftsman, Kishi Matahashi (1791-1877) is responsible for the wood carvings which include a dragon, a lion, a dog, a peony, a rising dragon and others among the 60 some small and large creatures. The stage was constructed by a local carpenter named Suzuki Kashichi.

The sliding door paintings are of two types and were painted bu Shimizu Tokoku(1841-1907). Born in Edo (former name for Tokyo), he was trained in the Kano school of art at the age of 13 and was given the professional name of "Tamaryu".

One set of paintings is called "Cranes and Autumn Grasses" and is very reminiscent of the Kano school in that the colors are vivid and the painting is highly detailed. The other set of paintings is called "Basho" and is most unusual in that it employs a tropical plant, the banana, as a motif. Tamaryu was in the employ of Philipp Franz von Siebold, a German physician who twice visited Japan and was engaged in sketching Japanese flora and fauna. While in Nagasaki, Tamaryu studied oil painting and photography. These pursuits are reflected in this Western style painting in its bold design. He also opened a photo studio in Yokohama, later moving to Tokyo. The painting is a very valuable work of art.

The framed picture has calligraphic images on both sides. The front side is inscribed with "Rakkyo Kagan". It was written by the Tatebayashi calligrapher, Taguchi Koson. It was originally written for a stage which had been constructed in 1854. Taguchi was a great friend of the Kiryu designer, Ishida Kyuya, and was commissioned by him to do the work. The calligraphy was donated by Kaneko Kichiemon of Honcho 4 chome.

The reverse side of the work is entitled "Shigaeme" and was commissioned on the occasion of the completion of the stage by Isobe Shoshichi. Some of the wood carvings from an earlier stage built in 1854 were reused on the stage. This makes the stage the oldest one in Kiryu.
HOKO
(Festival Float)


Constructed in 1875, the Hoko was also sponsored by Isobe Shoshichi, through whose dedication it became a truly elaborate float.
In the Kanto area, such festival floats are typically called "dashi", however, because of the influence of Kyoto in Kiryu (through the textile industry), this float is referred to in the Kyoto style as a "hoko".
Two shrine floats were permitted to enter Edo Castle grounds during the Edo Tenka Festival. These floats were two storied and stood 7.5 meters tall. The festival floats extant in the Kanto area are all in this Edo style and, having been modeled on Edo floats, are of a grand scale.
The Kiryu 3 chome Honcho district also has a festival float which is entitled "Okiniboko". It is constructed in the Edo style and is simple in design. the main body of the float resembles the body of a shamisen. There is a collapsable upper deck which, when extended, is like the neck of a shamisen (a traditional guitar-like stringed instrument of Japan). The decor on the float is painted gold which is unusual in Kiryu.
The 4 chome Hoko is unique in the Kanto area for its size and originality. The float is a richly carved multi-storied artifact from Kiryu's past. It is enclosed on 4 sides with a curtain called a "mizuhiki" and when extended fully, stands 9.2 meters in height. The float has wood carvings on all 4 sides which were done by the master wood sculptor, Kishi Matahashi when he was 79 years of age. The frontispiece has two dragons - one ascending and one descending. The lower level has carvings of various objects and animals, including a lion, peony, squirrel, grapes, and cranes. In all, there are some 100 wood carvings.
On the floor of the float there is a 10 centimeter oak axle post which supports the full weight of the float and allows it to turn 180 degrees, which is done manually.
In recent times such manually operated floats have decreased in number, however, these "hoko" are quite beautiful. The figure at the top of the float, "Susano'onomikoto" was created by the Asakusa doll maker, Matsumoto Kisaburo (1825-1891) when he was 50 years of age. Matsumoto was born in Kumamoto. As a doll maker he made his way from Osaka to Edo (Tokyo) under the tutelage of Shinmon Tatsugoro. At the request of the Tokyo University School of Medicine, he was commissioned to make models of the human body. His models were extremely realistic, even accurately displaying the body in dissection.
Matsumoto achieved great renown for his work. The float figure has bright piercing eyes and assumes the posture of a Kabuki actor. This hoko has achieved a rare artistic balance in terms of the excellently fashioned figure at the top, and the carvings and construction of the base. The beauty and richness of the unvarnished wood and overall superior design make it a most unusual festival float.
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Hoko paraded during the Kiryu Yagibushi Festival
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Meiji Period Hoko
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Hoko during a festival (Meiji Period)
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Showa Period Hoko
KIRYU GION FESTIVAL

Festivals fill people with excitement - it's uncanny the way everyone gets caught up in the frenzy. Festivals are essential events for the development of towns and villages in that they provide a driving force for citizens to gather together and share a common culture.
In earlier days, the Gion Festival was called "Gion-e" or "Tenno Sairei" and was held in honor of the god, Gozu Tenno. the festival was first held in Kyoto in the year 876, celebrating the beliefs of both Buddhism and Shintoism. The tutelary god of Gion Monastery was worshipped at Gion Shrine for his protective powers. This custom spread throughout the country.
From the year 1591, the town of Kiryu was formed with the earliest record of a festival being held in 1656. This was the first "Kiryu Gion". At that time, a form of children's dancing using the hands was the focus of this simple event. Near the Honcho 3 chome housing apartments there was once a temple called Shusei-In. This temple worshipped the god Gozu Tenno.
Since Kiryu was a lively commercial center, a town shrine was erected (Tenmangu). Once the festival became a combined event (for Tenmangu and Shusei-In) it grew even more lively. From around the end of the Edo Period, festival floats were drawn through the town and it was not unusual for there to be 4 or 5 floats in the parade. In addition, "Edo shibai", open-air dramatic performances took place in competition from district to district around the town and the festival went on through the night. This festival became the third largest night festival in the Kanto Plain.
These gaudy festivals were, however, prohibited from time to time. From around 1860, the six districts of Honcho combined together to build a festival stage. Not long after that the Meiji Restoration took place and Buddhism was officially separated from Shintoism. Gozu Tenno was no longer recognized as a tutelary god in Buddhism and was replaced by Susano'onomikoto as the festival god.
The conversion of Kanshin-In of Kyoto to Yakata Shrine became a trend which spread all over the country. In Kiryu as well, as a result of the division of Buddhism and Shintoism, Shusei-In was renamed Yakata Shrine in 1870. In 1908 Yakata Shrine was combined with Miwa Shrine and a storehouse for moveable shrines (o-mikoshi) was constructed.
Kiryu, an independent town, which had grown prosperous from textile manufacturing, combined the best of Tokyo and Kyoto traditions. As a result, an entirely new urban culture arose in the city. Because of its advanced commercial and cultural level, people involved in the arts all over the country were drawn to Kiryu.
It was this cultural and environmental context that gave rise to the Gion Festival with its colorful stages and floats. Gion Bayashi performances and other cultural artifacts such as the wood carvings, paintings and calligraphy, etc. are all examples of the wonderful performing arts associated with the festival. This cultural heritage which has been entrusted to the citizens of Kiryu demonstrates the mindset of the people of the city in times past and serves to renew our affection for Kiryu.
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Geishas performing during a Gion Festival in Kiryu (Taisho Era)



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