|Erika[ Sharing Kyoto Staff ]
The procession starts at half past 10 in the morning from the Kyoto Imperial Palace and heads toward Kamigamo Shrine through Shimogamo Shrine. There are seats on both sides of the procession from where you can observe it. Notice that you need to buy a ticket to see the festival from these seats, but otherwise the festival is free.
We took our seats in front of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The starting time is at 10:30 a.m. but we were there an hour early, but still couldn’t get the seats in the front row, so if you want to get the best seats you have to be prepared to go early.
It’s half past 10, so the procession begins! The official name for the procession is Roto-no-Gi, and it is made up from the main procession of the men, and the procession of women following it.
What is special about this procession is the way the clothing of all the different ranking Heian period nobles is replicated. In the Heian period the clothing, like the color of the clothes, was a thing decided by one’s position. When watching the procession you can see this in the clothes, but also on things like the reins of the horses.
Not many people know this, but actually the most important person in the procession is this man dressed in black, Chokushidai, who participates in the procession acting in place of the imperial messenger, and his high status can easily be seen from the ornamental saddle on his horse.
Although the weather was great and it must have really hot, the expressions on the people who participated in the procession were very noble.
This carriage pulled by an ox called Gissha is one of the highlights of the procession. This used to be the transportation method for the Chokushi, but not the carriage is empty.
The ox is also wearing decorations for this day and looks cute.
Last in the main procession come these huge umbrellas called Furyugasa, which are even bigger than I thought they would be, but they still look cute, though they must be very heavy.
After the main procession comes the procession of women. This is the most gorgeous and popular part of Aoi Matsuri.
Not only men, but women are also on horseback. The beautiful women with their geisha-like white faces look noble and beautiful.
These court ladies are called Myobu, and they have men holding parasols for them. This day the wind was a bit strong, and the way the cloth on the parasol caught the wind made these two smile, which is something I remember very well of that day. Often the unexpected things are the ones you remember the best afterward.
After I began to hear excited shouts from all around me, I got to see the slow-moving palanquin of the Saio-dai. The Saio-dai takes the role of the historic Saio, an imperial princess who was committed to the service of the Kamo Shrine (a term encompassing both Kamigamo and Shimogamo shrines).
The reason why she is called Saio-dai and not just Saio is that in the present day she is not from the imperial family, but an unmarried girl with connections to Kyoto.
This year’s Saio-dai was a student from Kyoto’s Doshisha University. The Saio-dai wears a beautiful junihitoe, a 12-layered kimono, and she is carried on a palanquin, and she is the graceful queen of the show. It takes a lot of money to become the Saio-dai, so she is said to be chosen from the very well-to-do families.
The people in the stands were waving their hands and taking pictures of Saio-dai, and all of them looked very pleased to get to see her.
The cute children who follow the Saio-dai also wear colorful kimonos and white makeup.
The procession takes about an hour to pass. After exiting the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the procession heads for Shimogamo Shrine and after that the goal, Kamigamo Shrine. If you have the chance, I hope you will go see this very tasteful procession. It is full of Kyoto-likeness.