In the ninth century, the people of Kyoto, Japan, created a purification ritual they believed would appease the gods that caused earthquakes and floods. They repeated that ritual annually for centuries. By 1533, the ritual lost its religious significance, but the locals continued their tradition of parades and celebrations.
Today, that tradition continues in the Gion Festival, a cultural celebration that takes place in the city throughout July. The event comes to a head on July 17, when a large parade proceeds through the streets of Kyoto.
“The Gion Festival has a history of more than 1,200 years, and it’s one of the most famous and popular events in Japan,” said Yuki Koguchi of Japan Deluxe Tour, which offers Gion Festival tours for groups. “For a whole month, Kyoto has a festive feeling. We do a tour there every year and give people time to walk around Kyoto and enjoy it.”
Groups visit attractions around Kyoto on the first day of their visit, but they also have free time to sample traditional Gion snacks sold by street vendors throughout the month. Many local companies also offer visitors the opportunity to dress up in a traditional kimono or geisha costume and have their picture taken.
On the second day of the visit, groups spend their entire day at the Gion parade, which features huge floats that wind their way through the city streets.
Japan Deluxe’s Gion Festival tour also includes visits to Tokyo, Mount Fuji and Osaka.
— www.japandeluxetour.com —
Day of the Dead
In the interior states of Mexico, a fascinating tradition has sprung up from the rituals of the indigenous groups that predate the arrival of Europeans in Central America. Known as “Dia de los Mertos,” or Day of the Dead, this annual event celebrates the lives of beloved friends and family members who have passed away.
Although it sounds somewhat macabre, Mexicans view the Day of the Dead as a happy event. On the night of November 1, locals visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried, bringing along the deceased’s favorite foods and clothing. Legend holds that the dead are allowed to visit their families on this one night each year. Participants spend the evening sharing memories and stories about the departed.
The most famous Day of the Dead celebration takes place on a lake island in the state of Michoacan. But Agustin Caparros, owner of A Closer Look Tours, prefers to take groups to the celebration in the city of Oaxaca.
“Michoacan has huge crowds,” he said. “The one in Oaxaca is wonderful because it’s smaller, and it has great food.”
During a tour, participants spend half a day visiting attractions around Oaxaca and then take several days to explore Day of the Dead traditions in depth. Along the way, they’ll see workshops where families build elaborate altars in memory of their loved ones, taste special sweet bread made for the occasion in local bakeries and attend the ceremonies where thousands of candles are lit at a local cemetery.
— www.acloserlooktours.com —