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The Saio Gunko Procession is held in Tsuchiyama which has no train station. Take the "Aikuru" bus from Kibukawa Station (JR Kusatsu Line and Ohmi Railways). In about 30 min., get off at Ono Higashi-guchi (大野東口) and walk to Ono Primary Sc
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This is a map of the original route taken by the Saio princess from Kyoto to Saiku, near Ise Grand Shrines. The journey took 5 nights and 6 days, and passed through Shiga Prefecture at Seta, Kafuka (Koka), and Tarumi. The Saio princess stayed at a different palace each night, and three of them were in Shiga. The temporary palace for the Saio princess was called Tongu (頓宮). Only the Tarumi Tongu's former location is known today.
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The Saio princess was an unmarried, young Imperial princess, often the Emperor's daughter, who was appointed (by divination) to be the High Priestess of Ise Grand Shrines in Mie Prefecture from the 7th to 14th centuries.
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Held on the last Sunday in March, the festival started at 11:30 am with the Saio princess carried on a palanquin arriving at a small park called Yume no Ogawa next to Ono Elementary School.
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She and her entourage arrived to perform the Misogi-shiki purification ceremony. 禊ぎ式 MAP
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For about 660 years from the 7th century, over 60 Saio princesses served at Ise Grand Shrines. Each time there was a new emperor, a new Saio princess would be appointed to serve at Ise.
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The new Saio princess traveled from Kyoto to the Saiku palace near Ise Grand Shrines. It took 5 nights and 6 days. From 886 to 1264 (378 years), one stop along the way was Tarumi Tongu in Tsuchiyama.
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This festival reenacts the Tsuchiyama leg of the Saio Princess Procession. It started at Ono Elementary School and proceeded to the site of Tarumi Tongu, one of the five temporary palaces for the Saio.
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At Yume no Ogawa park, there is a small stream where the Saio princess performed the Misogi-shiki purification ceremony. 禊ぎ式 夢の小川
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At Yume no Ogawa park, the Saio princess performed the Misogi-shiki purification ceremony in Tsuchiyama, Shiga. 禊ぎ式
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Kyoto's Aoi Matsuri Festival held in May is also a reenactment of this Saio princess procession called Saio Gunko (斎王群行).
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They wear Heian Period costumes. Although Tsuchiyama's Saio festival is not as big as Kyoto's Aoi Matsuri or Meiwa's Saio Matsuri in Mie, it is still very colorful and enjoyable.
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The Saio princess wears a juni-hitoe (12-layer) robe reserved only for Imperial family members. For this festival, the Saio princess is portrayed by 20-year-old Chiaki Koyama (神山千明) from Shigaraki, Koka.
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After the Misosugi purification ceremony, they formed a procession again and headed for the Ono Elementary School gymnasium.
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Tsuchiyama Saio Princess Procession あいの土山斎王群行
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Before embarking on the journey from Kyoto to Saiku in Mie Prefecture near Ise Grand Shrine where she was to serve as High Priestess, the Saio would undergo a three-year purification period in Kyoto.
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The Saio procession was one of the largest of its kind at the time, with up to 500 people.
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The Saio procession heads for the gymnasium for another ceremony.
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Taiko drummers
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Ono Elementary School Gymnasium and a few food stalls outside. A nice festival program was also on sale for 200 yen. 大野小学校
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Entrance to the gym.
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Inside the gym for the Departure ceremony. The Saio princess arrives through the back door.
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They first introduced all the people in the Saio Princess Procession.
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The first (and last) character in the procession is the Kacho, an archer and the head of security. 火長
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Kacho archer. (They didn't have guns yet.)
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The woman in purple is a court lady called the Myobu (命婦), an assistant who tends to the immediate needs of the Saio princess.
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Another Myobu, followed by a man in white who is the Hakucho (白丁), a guide and guard of the court ladies.
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A pair of court ladies called the Nyoju (女嬬) who serve in the inner palace (後宮) and takes care of the Saio princess' daily living. Behind is the Torimono-toneri (執物舎人) holding an umbrella and related to the emperor or Imperial family.
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These four men are Kyoto government officials called Kyoshiki Kannin (京職官人).
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The three girls are called Warame (童女). They are daughters of the Imperial family or nobility and are learning the customs of the Imperial Court while living in the Imperial Palace. Played by girls from Koka.
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The Saio princess was an unmarried family member of the emperor, often the daughter. Chosen by divination, she was sometimes very young, like age 8. The palanquin bearers are called Yocho (輿丁) who were chosen from the best gentlemen. 斎王
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Following the Saio are more Myobu and Nyoju court ladies and the Hakucho guide in white.
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Myobu and Nyoju court ladies and the Hakucho guide in white.
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This is a unique court lady called the Uneme (釆女) chosen from an aristocratic family and who was in charge of food and drink. She wears a special wardrobe. She is played by Emi Oe (大江絵巳) from Kyoto.
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This is the Naishi (内侍), a court lady who served in the palace of the empress (中宮). During the Saio procession, she is at the service of the Saio princess.
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The woman on the right is the Onna Betto (or Nyo-betto) (女別当) who was the supervisor of the court ladies at special occasions such as the Saio procession. The lady behind her is another Nyoju court lady. And in the end is the Zoshiki (雑色) handym
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These four are the Beiju (陪従) gagaku (ancient court music) musicians who played for Imperial visits and the Saio procession. (During the festival, they never played anything and there was a separate gagaku troupe.)
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The last person in the procession is the Kacho guard.
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Placard holders called Waranbe (童部).
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Festival committee chairman gives a speech.
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Mayor of Koka gives a speech. (Tsuchiyama is in the city of Koka.)
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The gagaku musicians were from the Shiga Gagaku-kai troupe.
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Saio princess on a pedestal. The woman in the green kimono behind her was always with her, helping her with her kimono as she moved about.
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Those people in the Heian Period sure knew how to make distinguished people look distinguished.
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A dance by the Warawame child attendants.
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Group picture. About 80 people participated in the procession.
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Posing for a photo.
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The Tsuchiyama Saio Princess Procession left the gymnasium at around 1:30 pm.
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Bearer of a sign saying, "Saio."
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Coming through an avenue of pine trees on the old Tokaido Road. The procession is led by a patrol car with a speaker blaring out a Saio song.
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The Saio is actually on a wheeled cart.
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Saio princess going to Tarumi Tongu in Tsuchiyama, Shiga.
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Saio princess of the Ai-no-Tsuchiyama Saio Gunko Matsuri festival in March.
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Back of the archer.
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The first break was at the Ichiba Kumin Hiroba square.(市場区民広場)
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Ichiba Kumin Hiroba square.(市場区民広場)
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The procession arrived at about 2 pm.
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The Saio princess makes her way to her place. I wondered why the others didn't bow to her as she passed by.
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Saio princess and child attendants.
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Saio princess in juni-hitoe kimono.
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A nice performance area for a dance performance.
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The Dochumai was performed. 道中舞
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They danced to recorded music.
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Afterward, the Saio goes back into her palanquin.
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They actually carried her to the wheeled cart.
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The Saio princess in her palanquin. Notice that the palanquin's screens on all four sides are rolled up.
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Saio procession through the town. I was surprised to see so few spectators even though this was really a gorgeous procession.
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Marker for the site of the former Tarumi Tongu palace.
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Marker for the site of the former Tarumi Tongu palace.
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Another stop was made at the Maeno Community West Hiroba Square (前野集会所西広場) in front of Chianji temple (地安禅寺).
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Saio arrives at Maeno.
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They gathered at Maeno Community West Hiroba Square (前野集会所西広場) at about 2:40 pm.Panorama shot.
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The backdrop was quite dramatic with the temple gate.
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The Saio princess was poised as always, despite the winds and sun and the heavy costume.
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Placard bearers
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Again they danced the Dochu-mai. Same one as at the last stop.
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Saio goes back to her palanquin.
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They carry her to the wheeled cart. Modern men are too weak to carry such a heavy palanquin.
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Tsuchiyama is famous for tea. We saw a number of tea fields along the procession route.
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Saio and tea plants.
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Saio passing by tea field.
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Route to the Tarumi Tongu palace site.
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The Saio Gunko procession proceeds through tea fields on the way to Tarumi Tongu.
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Saio princess in Tsuchiyama, Koka.
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About Tarumi Tongu. (垂水頓宮) Tongu means temporary palace. There were five of them for the Saio princess between Kyoto and the Saiku palace in Ise.
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Only the location of the Tarumi Tongu in Tsuchiyama is known today. The exact locations of the other Tongu palaces are unknown, but two others were in Shiga, called the Seta (勢多) and Kafuka (鹿深) Tongu.
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National Historic Site of Tarumi Tongu. From 886 to 1264 (378 years), a total of 31 Saio princesses lodged at Tarumi Tongu. 垂水頓宮
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Entrance to Tarumi Tongu. The five Tongu palaces were built anew for each Saio procession and then dismantled after the procession was completed. Therefore, there is no remains of the palaces, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact location.
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Inside Tarumi Tongu. Today, it is just a small forested area with a monument. The names and dates of all 31 Saio princesses who stayed in Tarumi Tongu are known today.
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The Saio princess arrives at Tarumi Tongu.
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The Saio gets out of her palanquin.
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In the background is a stone monument marking the area as the site of the Tarumi Tongu palace.
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There were surprisingly few spectators.
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Saio makes her way to her place.
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The first Saio watches a dance performance.
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The Saio then went on the stage. This was the festival's final ceremony called Otsukishiki (Arrival Ceremony) at the Tarumi Tongu site. お着き式
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The Saio sits and waits for her bowl of green tea.
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The tea is brought to the tea master.
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The tea master makes the tea.
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Then gives it to the attendant.
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The tea is given to the Uneme (釆女) attendant in charge of food.
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The Uneme takes the bowl of tea to the Saio.
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The Saio receives the tea.
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The Saio drinks the tea.
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Uneme takes the tea bowl back. This ended the festival at around 4 pm. I really enjoyed this festival. It was worth the long trip to come here.
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Closing remarks. For more info about the festival, call 0748-66-1602 (in Japanese). Note that if it rains, everything is held inside the Ono Elementary School Gymnasium.
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Notice the little shrine in the background to mark the Tarumi Tongu site. 皆さん、大変お疲れさまでした。とても優雅なお祭りでした。皆に伝えます。
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Tarumi Tongu is a well-forested area amid tea fields. After Tarumi Tongu, the Saio princess crossed over the Suzuka mountains and stayed at the Suzuka (鈴鹿) Tongu and Itsushi (壱志) Tongu in Mie Prefecture.
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Tea fields next to Tarumi Tongu. When the Saio princess was called back to Kyoto, she took a different route back to Kyoto.
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Also see my photos of the Aoi Matsuri here.
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Banners for the Saio Gunko festival. It was a great festival and highly recommended. A lot of people were behind the scenes to hold this festival, and thanks to them too.
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