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'It's Not a Show': Yasaka Shrine Chief Opposes Premium Seats at Gion Festival

KYOTO, Jun 21 (News On Japan) - A controversy has erupted over the sale of high-priced premium seats at the Gion Festival. Yasaka Shrine's chief priest has expressed concern over the decision to sell premium seats for 150,000 yen each, stating, "This is not a show."

The Kyoto City Tourism Association has been advocating for these seats as a new source of revenue to support the preservation and continuation of the festival, especially in light of the financial difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the chief priest has firmly opposed offering alcoholic beverages in these high-priced seats, arguing that the Gion Festival is a sacred event, not a spectacle.

At a press conference held on June 20, it was decided that no alcohol or food would be provided in these premium seats, seemingly resolving the dispute. This article delves into the feasibility of balancing the festival's sacred nature with its role as a tourist attraction, especially in light of the controversy over the premium seats.

The Gion Festival, which includes the Yamaboko Junko parade, is registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. Yasaka Shrine, where the festival is centered, has a history of over a thousand years, and the parade is believed to carry deities that purify the city. The premium seats, which are priced at 150,000 yen each this year (down from 400,000 yen last year), offer benefits such as parasols, beverages, and audio guides, especially targeting foreign tourists.

The tourism association explained that they reduced the price this year to make the seats more accessible to domestic tourists. The funds raised are intended to support the festival’s operational costs, including the preservation of the Yamaboko floats. Despite understanding the financial necessity, the chief priest strongly opposed the inclusion of alcohol in the premium seats, citing the dangers of drinking in the heat and the importance of maintaining the festival's sacred atmosphere.

In response to these concerns, it was decided to eliminate alcohol and food from the premium seats, aiming for a respectful way to enjoy the festival. The premium seats, however, remain a valuable opportunity to witness the dramatic "Tsuji-mawashi" turning of the floats, a highlight of the Yamaboko Junko parade, and are seen by some as worth the expense.

A survey conducted among 528 people via LINE showed that over 70% supported the premium seats, citing reasons such as securing a place to sit, especially for families with children, and contributing to the preservation of cultural heritage. Opponents argued that monetizing a sacred event feels like profiteering and that festivals should be enjoyed equally by all. Respondents also emphasized the importance of maintaining decorum, suggesting restrictions on alcohol, food, camera use, dress code, smoking, and drone usage.

The Gion Festival, deeply rooted in history, is both a religious event and a popular attraction. Experts suggest that maintaining respect and decorum is crucial for the festival’s future, balancing its sacred traditions with its role as a major tourist draw.

Source: YOMIURI

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