Hosted by Kurumazaki Jinja, a small shrine near Arashiyama famous for worshipping gods of artistic talent, the Mifune Matsuri (Three Boats Festival) takes place on the third Sunday in May, starting at 12:30 pm. This iconic festival is well-known for the portion that takes place on the water, as the participants take to a small fleet of boats in order to recreate an elegant Heian period pastime, wherein nobles enjoyed various refined entertainments while leisurely boating about a pond. First held in 1922 to commemorate the beginning of the Showa Era, this is an annual festival with a lot of people turning out to watch and participate in the excitement.
Held at the scenic Oi River near the popular Togetsukyō Bridge, priests from Kurumazaki Shrine lead a procession from Nakanoshima Park across the bridge, accompanied by a woman dressed as the famous author of The Pillow Book, Sei Shonagon. In addition to the Heian court lady and her attendants, a group of shirabyōshi dancers from the Japanese Imayō Song & Dance Association (Nihon Imayō Utabugaku Kai), dancers and musicians from the Ichihime Gagaku Association (Ichihime Gagaku Kai), and honored guests join the stately march to the temporary harbor where rituals are conducted to honor the gods of Kurumazaki Shrine.
Though Mifune literally means “three boats”, it’s also said to be an allusion to the “three arts” practiced during the festival: Japanese poetry (waka), Chinese poetry (kanshi), and musical performance and dance (sōgaku). Once the vessels take their occupants out on the water, it is quite fascinating to watch traditional dances and music performed not on a stage, but in the prows of old-fashioned boats.
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