Tag Archives: Kyoto

Experience Three Major Festivals in Kyoto with History Going Back over a Thousand Years!

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Participate in or watch famous local festivals and annual events while visiting your sightseeing destinations. Imagine that you will go on a trip to Buñol in Spain. At a famous festival, “La Tomatina”, people throw tomatoes at each other. If you do not know the festival and are talked to like that, “Oh, you are very sorry. A very interesting festival was held yesterday”, you will cry out “Yesterday, oh, my god! You would feel regret. “I would have carefully done my homework on the city more.”


I hope you will not regret when you visit Kyoto attracting tourists from all over the world. For this reason, please bear in the mind Kyoto holds “Three Major Festivals”. Adjustment of your travel plan to the events and exact dates surely makes your tours more exciting and wonderful.


Today, Kyoto usually shows its aspect of the modern city. However, you might feel as if you were transported back in time to the ancient times during the terms of the festivals that you should not miss.




Aoi Matsuri Festival (Hollyhock Festival)



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One of the gates of the Kyoto Imperial Palace



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The route



The Procession

Aoi Matusri Festival is held on March 15th when fresh green is brilliant. The highlight is the procession with over 500 people wearing traditional Heian period (from the late of 8th to 12th century) costumes. Together with those people, a palanquin, two graceful cow carriages, four cows and 36 horses also depart from the Kyoto Imperial Palace at 10:30 a.m. The procession makes its slow progress along the street. The destination is the Kamigamo shrine via Shimogamo shrine. The total distance is about 8 km (Approx. 5 miles) and it takes about 5 hours.


When you look closely at people, they wear an accessary made of hollyhock and Katsura leaves which are thought to be sacred leaves for both shrines. The former represents female deities and the latter male ones. According to one explanation, decorating the two leaves symbolizes the marriage of deities in a myth.


You can stand there and watch the procession. And available are charged pavilions where you can sit in a chair. Unfortunately, it is difficult to obtain. However, the procession forms a long line. You would find a favorite location or photo spot.




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High Priestess



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Shimogamo Shrine




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Kamigamo Shrine




Misogi or Purification Ceremony by a High Priestess

A High Priestess called “Saiō” plays a prominent role in the festival. The part is fundamentally limited to an imperial princess, but now an acting High Priestess called “Saiō-dai” fills the role. She is selected under the condition that her family can carry the enormous cost of the all preparation including costumes and so on (about several hundred thousand dollars). For this reason, acting High Priestesses have traditionally been the daughters of prestigious families in Kyoto.


On May 4th, she purifies her hands in the ponds of Kamigamo and Shimogamo shrine every other year. Purification is one of the most important ceremonies in Shinto (Japanese native religion).


This festival has a long history. According to historical papers, it was already held in the 6th century and became a state occasion in the beginning of the 9th century. There are uncountable festivals, small and large, in Japan. It is only at Aoi Matsuri Festival that the costumes and folkways over a thousand years ago are actually re-enacted.




Gion Matsuri Festival



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Floats procession (Yamahoko-Junko)



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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


Yasaka Shrine




The Highlights

Kyoto is located in an inner basin and it is amazingly sweltering in summer. In this season, people in Kyoto celebrate Gion Matsuri Festival, one of the major three festivals in Kyoto, which is also representative of all of the Japanese festivals. It lasts for a whole month from July 1st to 31st.


During this period, rituals are performed at Yasaka Shrine. However, the highlights for sightseers are floats procession (Yamahoko-Junko) and the eves of the main festival (Yoiyama). Both are held in twice. On July 14th to 16th, as darkness sets in, numerous lanterns decorating floats are lit and Gion festival music is played all together. This is the event called Yoiyama. On July 17th, at the floats procession, over 20 floats parade down streets. The scene is breathtaking. You are overwhelmed by the gorgeous, impressive and huge floats moving to music. The biggest float named “Tsuki-Hoko” ranges up to 26 meters (85-feet) and weighs about 10 metric tons.


The amusement and excitement are far from over. On July 21st to 23rd, later Yoiyama is held again. You can also enjoy the lanterns of floats and festival music. On the following day, July 24th, about 10 floats march around the city.


When you would like to see and enjoy fantastical atmosphere at night in a crowded field, the former Yoiyama is recommendable. People in yukata (light cotton kimono) pour into the streets. The scene is the very Japanese festival and must pleases you.


When you would like to mainly watch floats, daylight hours during Yoiyama are good choice. For those who don’t like crowds, it is better to see the later Yoiyama because people come in lower numbers.


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Public Domain


This is a folding screen with paintings both inside and outside the capital, Kyoto, depicted in 1570.


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The digest version


The History

The festival originated in the late 9th century. The purpose was to hold a service for departed souls dying of epidemic and to drive away evil spirits.


It lasts for over 1,000 years though it could not be unfortunately held in the war-torn era several times. The picture is called “a folding screen with paintings both inside and outside the capital, Kyoto, depicted in 1570”. (Designated as a national treasure) Look at floats in it. They are very beautiful as we watch today.


I think people in Kyoto would like to enjoy the festival all year long.


Kyoto was not destroyed in an air raid miraculously during the World War Ⅱ. In 1467, however, most of the capital was burned to the ground by the turmoil of the Ōnin war. The festival in the folding screen is a symbol of the post-war reconstruction.




Jidai Matsuri Festival



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Although Jidai Matsuri Festival is held in autumn, Heian-Jingu Shrine is very famous for its beauty of the cherry blossoms in springs.



Reappearance of the People in the Ancient Capital

Today, the capital of Japan is Tokyo. However, small part of conceited Kyoto people assume that Kyoto IS the capital of Japan and an emperor temporarily moves to Tokyo. (Just the same, the Imperial family has lived in Tokyo for about 150 years.) According to their opinion, Tokyo is a temporary capital. This funny assumption explains their pride that Kyoto was the center of Japan over 1,000 years.


Actually, Japanese emperors resided at the Kyoto Imperial Palace for a long time from 794 to 1869. Jidai Matsuri Festival tries to recreate various periods of the millennium by a costume parade. Unlike the two festivals introduced above, its history is not so long. In 1895, Heian Gingu Shrine was constructed to enshrine emperor “Kanmu” who relocated the capital to Kyoto. From this time, Kyoto has held the festival on October 22nd every year to cherish their memories of good old days.




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The Parade

The highlight of the festival is a parade where people wear various traditional costumes. About 2,000 people divide into 20 groups which represent each period respectively. You can appreciate the whole history of Kyoto with your own eyes. At first, you see honorary guests such as a governor of Kyoto prefecture, a mayor and local business leaders wearing traditional costumes on horse carts. Next, the first group comes. Like the Image 12, they were active when the Meiji Restoration occurred over 150 years ago. As the parade moves, their costumes gradually go back in time.


For example, they includes famous princess “Kazunomiya” 150 years ago (the Image 13), samurai warriors of Nobunaga ODA over 440 years ago (the Image 14), female peddlers 500 years ago, a famous dancing girl “Sizuka-Gozen” 830 years ago. They are just a little bit of the parade’s characters. The parade ends with the group who are civil officials participating the ceremonies at the Kyoto Imperial Palace 1200 years ago when the capital was relocated to Kyoto.


Available are charged pavilions which can be called “budget time machine”. Don’t miss the three festivals when you come to Kyoto.




Aoi Matsuri


Gion Matsuri


Jidai Matsuri