Kyoto is renowned for its temples and shrines, beautiful scenery, great Japanese cuisine, and matcha sweets, but there is something else to Kyoto as well, festivals! Kyoto is famous for festivals. The ancient capital, Kyoto, is a place where many festivals take place around the year, at the shrines and temples and other places. Among these festivals the most famous are the “Three big Kyoto festivals” of Aoi Festival, Gion Festival, and Jidai Festival. You might be wondering what type of festivals are these? What kind of history do they have? Find out below!
Gion Festival, a festival with over 1000 years of history, is a Kyoto summer tradition. This festival of Yasaka Shrine is a lively festival where the mikoshi portable shrines and yamahoko wooden floats are moved round the city of Kyoto. This festival takes place every year from the beginning to the end of July and the different festival rituals last for the whole month.
Among the different festival rituals of the month the parade of the wooden floats on July 17 and 18 has to be the highlight. The biggest ones are 25 meters tall! The wooden floats come in many shapes and sizes and look breath-taking.
But Gion Festival can be enjoyed at night too! From three days before the main event of the wooden floats, there is an event called Yoiyama, and the main streets of Kyoto like Shijo-dori Street are closed for traffic and food stalls line the streets. Yoiyama takes place from July 14 to 16 for three days and makes the mood in Kyoto a festive one. Some people even consider this festival to be the main event of Gion Festival! If you want to enjoy Kyoto’s summer, I recommend you participate in Gion Festival.
Event dates: July 1 to 31
Event place: Yasaka Shrine
The second one is Aoi Festival that takes place every year in May. This is a festival of the world heritage sites of Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine. In this festival an elegant Heian period imperial court procession goes from the Kyoto Imperial Palace, then though Shimogamo Shrine and finally arrives at Kamigamo Shrine. This festival is known as the oldest one in Kyoto and its roots go back 1500 years.
500 people join the historic reenactment procession wearing Heian period court attire, making the procession is approximately one kilometer long. The highlight of the festival is this woman in the picture. She is called Saio-dai and she goes to the shrine representing the emperor to be a shrine maiden. The sight of her riding in her palanquin wearing a vivid junihitoe 12-layered kimono is really beautiful, so much that she can verily be called the heroine of Aoi Festival.
These kinds of unusual sights can only be seen in Kyoto. Many people from overseas also come to see the Aoi Festival procession. This event is quintessentially Kyoto, so it has to be seen at least once.
Event date: May 15
※Due to the coronavirus, it has been decided to cancel the event. The related events of Aoi Matsuri at Shimogamo Jinja Shrine and Kamigamo Jinja Shrine will be held by the shrine officials in 2022.
The third one is the Jidai Festival held every year on October 22. Like the Aoi Festival, this festival is also about a procession. This festival was started in the latter half of the 19th century, so it is quite young compared to the two I just wrote about but it is still a festival that is representative of Kyoto. The parade displaying traditional costumes and equipment from the time when Kyoto became the capital of Japan is famous. Many famous historic figures also take part in the reenactment like Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
The clothes and things the people participating in the procession are elaborately made by Kyoto’s traditional techniques after careful consideration of the historic period.
The elegant women’s parade float is also worth a look too. The women of the float are maiko from Ponto-cho and other geisha districts.
The different floats of the Jidai Festival have different period people on them,and the newest periods come first and the oldest last, so looking at the procession go by is a lot of fun.
Event date: October 22
|Erika[ Sharing Kyoto Staff ]