Kyoto’s Gion festival band to hold first overseas concert

For the first time in more than 1,000 years, the festive music played on yamahoko floats during Kyoto's Gion festival will be performed overseas, when five concerts are held in Boston early next month.

Members of the band are looking forward to the performances as they believe the concerts will be a good opportunity for people abroad to learn about Japanese traditional music and sounds, according to the federation of yamahoko float-preserving associations in Kyoto.

The band belongs to the naginata-hoko (Japanese long halberd) float, which leads the procession of floats every year. The band, known for creating the light sounds of "Kon-chiki-chin," with a kane (bell-like Japanese gong), a flute and a drum, plays traditional music during the yamahoko parade and the Yoiyama festival, to be held on the eve of the main event.

They start practicing at the meeting places of neighborhood associations after "Kippu-iri," held July 1-5, a ritual held before all other events related to the festival.

According to the sources, the decision to hold the concerts was made after the Japan Society of Boston, a local friendship group, approached naginata-hoko player Masataka Hata, 60, president of incense manufacturer Shoeido Incense Co. "We'd love to have a chance to experience Kyoto culture," members of the society said.

Nineteen members of the band will visit the United States for one week starting on May 4 and give concerts at five venues, including a local public high school and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The band will perform alongside video footage of Hoko-tate, the building of floats, and a yamahoko parade.

"We hope this concert tour will encourage people overseas to come to the Gion festival," said Tatsuya Ishiwa, 62, the leader of the band.