Mysteries and laser-precision at the Gion festival

  • Mysteries and laser-precision at the Gion festival
  • Mysteries and laser-precision at the Gion festival Mysteries and laser-precision at the Gion festival

Mysteries and laser-precision at the Gion festival

Fascinatingly, the Gion festival hides both centuries old mysteries and technical innovations. A month ago, one of these mysteries brought the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) to the Dutch town of Rijswijk.


The television company took recordings in the archive of the ‘Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed’ (Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands).

Jan Steens’ painting ‘Het feestmaal van Cleopatra‘, dating from the 17th century depicts a tapestry with a decoration of a star-shaped medaillon. The Japanese are putting together a documentary following the annual Gion festival held in Kyoto from the 17th of July. During this festival – which dates back to the 8th century – floats full of oriental rugs are carried through the streets of Kyoto. The decorations of two of the carpets in this procession corresponds with the by Jan Steen painted carpet. In total the procession at the Gion festival shows 32 floats with carpets from all over the world, from China, to India to Europe. Technical research of the material will show if the two carpets in Kyoto originate from the Netherlands. This is very special because these Dutch 17th century carpets were presumed lost according to the FB Message by Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed. The Gion festival is considered a very traditional Japanese festival but has a lot more global connotations than you might expect at first sight.

The Gion festival is not only a place of hidden mysteries, but one of longlasting family traditions as well. But don’t let the traditional appearances of the floats fool you! One of them is less than one year old…  In 1864, in ‘the great fire’ of Kyoto, the Ofune Boko float was destroyed.  Surprisingly, not only its’ treasures survived but the families also continued the music practice for the Gion festival although they wouldn’t be performing for generations. But, with an amazing effort of the Ofune Boko community they managed to gather funds. The Ofune Boko worked then with the Ritsumeikan University’s Art Research Center to do high-precision, laser measurements of all of their float’s component parts. The new parts for Ōfune Boko were carefully made to these specifications and put together in a new float. This float will appear in the festivities on July 18th.

(It’s sometimes difficult to find background information in English. Fortunately, Catherine Pawasarat is keeping an informative blog and FB page: