The Gion Festival, which celebrates the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, is touted as the biggest festival in Japan – and for a country as rife with festivals as this one, it's really saying something.
Part of the reason for its fame is its nearly uninterrupted run for the past 1,150 years. The festival started in 869 to appease the gods during an epidemic, and these days the tradition is continued with one local boy selected to be that year's 'divine messenger'. The boy can't touch the ground from July 13 until he's paraded through the streets on July 17.
This month-long festival in July not only brings out most of Kyoto's residents – at least for the major events in the middle of the month – but also attracts hoards of visitors from all over Japan and overseas. While this makes for a great party, it also creates massive overcrowding and trash pile-up.
For years, the cost of security fell to the city of Kyoto and the festival's organising body (Public Utility Foundation for Gion Festival Preservation Associations). The festival clean-up also fell to both parties, plus, largely, the residents of Kyoto.
Two years ago, the festival organisation decided to offset this ever-growing cost with an unconventional tactic – opening a crowdfunding campaign. Their goal each year (this year included) is to raise ¥3,000,000 (USD27,135). Like other crowdfunders, the organization is offering prizes for donors that hit benchmark donation amounts.
Starting at a ¥5,000 donation, donors will receive a washcloth with an original festival design.
Donating ¥10,000 gets you the washcloth plus a chimaki (steamed dumpling wrapped in leaf) from Yasaka Shrine that's said to have special healing properties to, allegedly, keep you free from sickness for a full year.
A ¥20,000 donation earns you a fan calligraphed with the words 祇園祭 (Gion Festival).
And, finally, a whopping ¥1 million donation will earn you a spot as one of only 50 guests who are invited inside Yasaka Shrine (pictured above) for a special worship service followed by a meal with members of the festival organisation. Only two people have made that donation so far, so it doesn't seem like the 50-person limit will be hit anytime soon.
The crowdfunding campaigns of the past two years both went off without a hitch, easily reaching the stated goal. This year, with 65 days still left until the festival's commencement, the crowdfunding goal was reached with the help of about 280 donors. At the time of writing, with 62 days to go, the campaign has exceeded its goal and is now up to ¥3,460,000.
Donations are still open if you want to get in there! Check out their site (in Japanese) and choose an amount based on the prize pictures in the right sidebar.