Nov. 28, 2022 UPDATE

Slip back in time to the Heian Period at Kyoto’s magnificent Aoi Matsuri Festival! [2019]

We went and checked out the procession Heian Dynasty costume draped people and horse riding nobleman at Shimogamo Shrine’s Aoi Matsuri Festival.
Vanessa[ Sharing Kyoto Staff ]

Every May 15th at Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine, “Aoi Matsuri,” one of Kyoto’s top three festivals, is held.

This year we got the opportunity to see the “Roto-no-gi” procession from Shimogamo Shrine. Together with the perfect May weather and early summer leaves of the Tsuda-no-mori forest, the festival was simply a joy. The Roto-no-gi procession leaves from the Kyoto Imperial Palace, so those wanting to view it from there, definitely check out the Sharing Kyoto article down below.

▼Sharing Kyoto went to Aoi Festival on a very fine day in Kyoto

This is actually the first time we, Vanessa & Miyabi, had been to the Aoi Matsuri Festival, so we were super excited to see how it would turn out.

early summer’s morningWe enjoyed the cool air of an early summer’s morning as we arrived at the Shimogamo Shrine just after 10 AM. The weather was so lovely that we were able to almost forget about work for a moment haha. Ah, I wish we could’ve stayed there forever.

food stallsWe had an invite, so first headed to the reception.

The procession was scheduled to begin at 11:40 so we still had some time to kill and decided to see what was happening around the precinct. As it was the day of the festival, there were food stalls all around.

MiyabiMiyabi went for the amazing smelling Yakitori chicken skewers and said the tender grilled chicken was delicious. 

Also, nothing goes better with some yakitori than some Japanese sake.

stall selling Japanese sakeSo before we knew it, we were both standing in front of a stall selling Japanese sake.

The stall was selling a huge range of Kyoto brewed sake and even had some samples available too!

Ah, this is the life! Of course, I gave the samples a try too.

pamphletsAfter seeing what was around, it was about time for the procession to start, so we headed back to our seats.

It wasn’t just Japanese people at the festival; there were quite a few tourists there as well. 

The festival pamphlets contain easy to understand English explanations as well, so this festival is a great option for those visiting from overseas.

The processionThe procession finally arrived! 

Leading the procession as a jockey from Shimogamo’s horse race association dressed as Heian Period cavalry. Draped in the gorgeous Heian period gown, the rider looked super cool!

Just as a side note, there’s no flash photography allowed as it may lead to trouble with the horses and bulls, so please be careful!

horses The manEach social rank adorns different clothing and decorates their horses differently.

The man pictured in the top photo was the keeper of offerings and the man below him the highest ranked member of the procession; that is why his horse’s decorations are so extravagant. 

wisteria flowersDecorated with wisteria flowers, this bull drawn bullock cart has been used as a form of transportation since the Heian Period. 

As this cart was used for transporting Emperors and courtiers of high rank, it features especially beautiful decorations.

umbrellamoutan peonyThis giant umbrella decorated in flowers, such as moutan peony, is called a Furyu-Gasa.

The brilliant gleam of the colorful umbrella is breathtaking, isn’t it?

Following the Furyu-Gasa is the Saio-Dai procession of court noblewoman.

procession of court noblewomanbeautiful smilesThe colorful costumes and beautiful smiles of the ladies-in-waiting were so lovely.

The women being shaded by umbrellas are the highest ranked ladies-in-waiting.

Even kids got to join in! How cute!

Saio-DaiWearing a twelve-layered ceremonial kimono, Saio-Dai is who the Aoi Matsuri centers around. 

During the Heian Period, Saio would be appointed by the emperor to serve in the festival, and in modern day she is chosen from unmarried female Kyoto residents. Usually, she will be the daughter of a temple/shrine, cultural figure, or a business person.

FinallyFinally, Aoi Matsuri comes to a close with the arrival of Saio-Dai’s very own decorated bullock cart.

With over 500 people dressed in Heian Dynasty costumes, the procession at Aoi Matsuri is an incredible sight to see!

By the time it’d finished, it was already 1 in the afternoon, so with our tummies grumbling, we headed for some lunch!  

Asai ShokudoWith its great reviews and proximity to the Shimogamo Shrine, the Japanese style western food restaurant, “Asai Shokudo” was our choice.

The filling Salisbury steak and prawn cream croquette were absolutely delicious!

The tender and juicy Salisbury steak also went down perfectly with the side of rice.

Absolutely stuffed, we left happy as could be.

Kamo Mitarashi Chayasmall balls of mochiJust before we made our way home, we thought we’d check out a place that we’d wanted to go to for a long time.

Sitting right next to the Shimogamo Shrine, Kamo Mitarashi Chaya serves what they call Mitarashidango Hasshochi, small balls of mochi skewered and dipped in a sweet soy sauce, well, sauce.

The sugar filled soy sauce was sticky and just phenomenal.

We also picked up some for our colleagues back at work, and they were thrilled.

A comment from the staff
It’s been five years since I came to Kyoto, but this was the first time I’d been to the Aoi Matsuri festival. It was super fun, and the brilliant costumes made it feel like you’d gone back to the Heian Period. Also, having the bullock carts and horses pass right in front of you gave it a fantastic visceral feel. Compared to other festivals, there wasn’t much music playing, which kind of gave the entire festival an air of elegance. The procession continues for almost the whole day and makes its way through the city, but my recommendation is definitely Tsuda-no-mori forest in the Shimogamo Shrine. From there you can relax and enjoy the procession under the cool shade of the early summer leaves.

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