Minami-Kannon-Yama: Gion Matsuri!, a set on Flickr.
Also called “Kudari-kannon-yama” (literally “downward kannon float”), this drawn by rope-type float is the last float in the procession in the Gion festival parade.
This float used to appear at the end of the procession in the Ato-no-matsuri (the latter festival). The Minami-kannon-yama derives its name from the following legend: Zenzai-doji, an acolyte of Buddhism, was on a tour to the South (“Minami” in Japanese) visiting 53 saints to ask for their teaching, when the 28th kannon bodhisattva, who was living in the beautiful southern sea, taught the boy how to save all humans from all types of suffering.
The seated and peacefully meditating image of Ryoryu-kannon (literally “willow kannon”) that is the main object of worship of this float, was originally made in the Kamakura period (1192-1333) but was badly damaged in the big fire of 1788 leaving just the head and part of the chest unburned.
During the parade this float carries a large hanging willow branch at its rear. From the four corners of the float hang four wooden scent bags with carvings of chrysanthemum flower, bamboo, the Japanese plum blossom, and orchid respectively, which are admired as the four noblest plants among all vegetation. These ornaments are called “Kusudama” (literally “medicine balls”) and are believed to expel diseases.
A precious Indian calico carpet made in 1634, which is acknowledged as the oldest of its kind in Japan, is preserved as the hanging decoration on this float.
The Japanese kusudama (薬玉; lit. medicine ball) is a paper model that is usually (although not always) created by sewing multiple identical pyramidal units (usually stylized flowers folded from square paper) together through their points to form a spherical shape. Alternately the individual components may be glued together. (e.g. the kusudama in the lower photo is entirely glued, not threaded together) Occasionally, a tassel is attached to the bottom for decoration.
Kusudama originates from ancient Japanese culture, where they were used for incense and potpourri; possibly originally being actual bunches of flowers or herbs. The word itself is a combination of two Japanese words kusuri, Medicine, and tama, Ball. They are now typically used as decorations, or as gifts.