Taking photos of any event in Kyoto obviously requires some planning.  During almost the whole month of July, the Gion Matsuri keeps us busy with numerous events, ceremonies, and other happenings.  Some of these are more interesting than others from a photographic point of view.  Here is how I took a few photos of the “Naginata-hoko Chigo Shasan” ritual that took place in the Yasaka Jinja Shrine. 

The ritual starts at 11 AM and we arrived at the shrine a little over 30 min ahead of time.  As we enter the courtyard, we can see some area delimited with ropes. The message is pretty clear, the public will have to stay behind these. Now, I know that the participants will enter the place from the South Gate (Minami Mon), but I am not sure where they’ll go afterward.  The area facing the entrance is already occupied by professional people, TV crews, and other official photographers. Several photographers have already positioned themselves on the bottom left of the gate and I do not think there is any spot left to place ourselves in the first row.

It’s time to ask and confirm the route the participants will take and position ourselves as best as we still can.  One of the shrine attendants takes the time to answer our questions and suggest we place ourselves just on the right of an empty area where the people will purify themselves with water, the first stop they will make after their entrance.  He actually delimits this area with another rope and we find ourselves in between the south gate and the Honden, the main shrine building,  just across the central stage, with a good line of sight to both. It looks like we got a perfect spot.

As planned, at 11 AM, the participants arrive…

 

First, the two other younger boys cross the south gate and stop right in front of us to be purified by a couple of Shinto priests who give them some water to drink.  The Chigo follows with numerous people around him, protected under a huge parasol. He too makes a stop and then continues to the Honden, the main Shrine building, where everyone enters for the ceremony. We’re left outside, packed between the rope in front of us and the people behind, under the sun. 

We have to wait for about 30 min for the ceremony to finish and the people to go out, and for the event to continue. This is the perfect time to chat with the people around us and gather more information and other explanation about what is happening during the present ritual and what will happen later on. While waiting, I take a couple of photos of the things and people around.

And then, the priests leave the Honden, followed by several assistants. The official photographers who were waiting in front of the main door of the Honden get busy, and the Chigo appears, with his two young assistants and all the other men at the door.  They’re getting in position for the official photo.  Of course, I won’t be able to take the same kind of photos directly in front of the group, but our position is excellent and enables me to capture the scene from the side while avoiding to include any tourists in the frame.  That is, until two of the three mothers have the great idea of placing themselves right in front of us, blocking the view for everyone located around our position.  Well, I can’t really ask them to move, so I include them in my photo and use them to “frame” my subject.   

Then, everything goes very fast.  After the official photos in front of the Honden, the group quickly reaches the south gate where the Chigo is placed on a white horse and another photo is taken. All the participants then enter the Nakamura restaurant and the event comes to a close for us photographers. 

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The whole ceremony lasted about 45 min, but the actual ritual taking place inside the Honden itself was about 30 min. In other words, while we spent some 90 min within Yasaka Jinja, we could actually see something, and capture photos, for only about 15 min in the open. This is pretty “standard” for such event.

Regarding the lenses I used, as I do not have a single lens or zoom that would enable me to cover everything. I usually end up bringing two bodies and at least two zooms.  This time, I had a Nikon D500 with a 70-200 f/2.8 zoom, and an old favorite, the D810 with the 24-70 f/2.8.  It’s heavy, bulky and troublesome, but this way I can cover just about everything that is going on around me, either near or far (within reason).