Tenpyōsai (Spring)

  • Name: Tenpyōsai 天平祭 – Main Progression
  • Date: May 3
  • Time: 11:00 – 13:00
  • Cost: Free
  • Place: Heijō Palace
  • Area: Saki-cho, Nara City, Japan
  • Station: Yamato-Saidaiji Station

The spring Tenpyosai Festival, celebrating the Nara Period, is actually three days, from May 3-5. The main progression is on the 3rd, masked dancers on the 4th, and kid progression on the 5th. But the one I was interested in was the main progression.

They had free shuttle buses to Heijō Palace from Yamato-Saidaiji Station. The shuttles were/are full-sized buses and not shuttle vans, so there was plenty of room for lots of people.
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Arrived at Heijō Palace by 10:40.

I arrived as the progression was heading towards their starting place. Seeing them made me anxious that I was too late. However, I was very relieved to see that Heijō grounds is huge!! There was so much space and even more surprised that there were barely any people, relatively speaking.
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It definitely wasn’t like Gion Matsuri or anything where you’re surrounded by a mob of people. There was so much space. Some more icing on the cake was that there wasn’t any admission fees.

The progression route was a long straight path up towards the palace. The route tapered in sections as it got closer to the palace with the prime corner spots taken up by media and press.

Got to my spot by 10:50. I got a spot about 20? m before the front/end of the progression route. The front left corner was for the press but the front right corner was OK, however all the spots were already claimed. That was the best spot because you can get shots of the progression coming towards the palace and the progression as the line up facing the palace.

Even when the progression started at 11 o’clock, there was still so much relative empty space.

It was 11:30 by the time the progression reached me.
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The progression was made up of mainly courtesans. Their Nara Period costumes look so much like Chinese clothes with their flowing sleeves and separate colored garments. The courtesans also had small dots painted on their faces. I’ve never seen that before. I thought they were dimples at first from afar.
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Near the back of the progression was the “empress” and her fan maidens (i.e. ladies-in-waiting carrying oversized fans). Spring Tenpyosai '17 072.jpg
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They all reached the palace 11:45. Then we all relocated to get a better spot/view in the front of the spectator area to see the palace.
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The whole imperial court all lined up and faced the palace. The empress then made her appearance at the top of the palace steps. Before she came out, her fan maidens lined up their fans in front of the empress and then slowly pulled their fans away in succession to make it seem like she magically appeared out of nothing. Spring Tenpyosai '17 257.jpg

The imperial court cheered and the bird children performed at bottom of steps. After the performance, the fan maidens again covered the empress with their fans and slowly pulled them away to make it seem that she disappeared.
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By 12:00, the progression started to head back towards the Suzaku Gate. So that gave me another opportunity to take pictures of the progression as they left. Spring Tenpyosai '17 267.jpg

After I finished taking pictures of the end of the progression, I then headed towards where all the participants had congregated. All of them loitered there for a very long time as they took turns taking selfies with each other. That gave me another opportunity to take close-up shots of them. Lots of photo ops.
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I could’ve taken a lot more pictures but I got tired of having of swap lenses.

I really enjoyed this festival. Usually, I get stressed out for festivals because I gotta go there hours early to get a spot and fight the crowds. But this festival was so laid back. I came late and was still able to get pictures. There were many many opportunities to take photos.

Below is my notes from the event. PLEASE DO NOT USE THIS WITHOUT MY PERMISSION! I spent a long time making it to share with everyone. Please don’t abuse it!!
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TL;DR: Reenactment of a Nara Period imperial court procession.

Website: http://www.tenpyosai.jp/

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