Each year, a young boy is chosen from among Kyoto's wealthiest merchant families to act as a sacred page, an intercessor between the gods and the priests presiding over one of Japan`s most famous festivals: Kyoto's Gion Matsuri. At the culmination of the month long event, the Chigo, or "celestial child", rides in the Naginata Hoko, the first float in a long procession of 32, dressed in ceremonial Shinto robes. In order for the procession to begin, the boy must cut through a "shimenawa" , or sacred rope, with a single stoke of a sword.
Here he leads a procession of omikoshi, or portable shrines, through the streets of Gion on horseback. As a god, he is not permitted to touch the ground. He is carried inside the teahouses to give his blessing.
Behind him, Japan's most famous teahouse, the Ichiriki.
Gion Matsuri is a traditional festival which has been held at Yasaka Shrine for over 1,100 years. The festival was first held in 869, when a plague swept the country. People believed it was a curse of the diety Gozu Tenno. Sixty-six pikes representing the provinces at that time were erected at Shinsen-en Garden. The gods of Gion were celebrated and portable shrines were paraded through the streets as the people prayed for an abatement of the pestilence. Then known as Gion Goryo, the festival actually began as a ceremonial rite for the dead killed by the plagues.