This year, the mid-autumn full moon will cast a luminous glow on Sept. 13, a perfect occasion for moon viewing parties throughout Japan. For the city of Nara, however, the occasion takes on greater significance with a festive tradition that has been carried out for around 600 years — the Uneme Festival.
The event pays homage to a legendary uneme (court lady) in the Nara Period (710-794) who is said to have drowned herself in Sarusawa Pond after falling out of favor with the emperor.
Starting from 5 p.m., around 200 people dressed in ancient attire — several of whom will haul a hana-ōgi (huge folding fan made with flowers) in a carriage — will hold a parade from JR Nara Station to Uneme Shrine near Sarusawa Pond.
The parade will be followed by a ceremony at the shrine and then the finale: a ritual involving a pair of traditional kangensen boats sailing around the pond. Gagaku (court music) will be performed live until the hana-ōgi is slipped into the water as an tribute to the brokenhearted maiden.
Visitors will be allowed ride in the festival boats on Sept. 7, 8 and 12. (Yuki Yamauchi)