Jidai Matsuri – A Magnificent Procession that Brings Kyoto’s History into the Present
Kyoto’s Jidai Matsuri is one of the city’s "Three Great Festivals."
Originally held to celebrate the 1,100 year anniversary of the capital moving to Heian-Kyo (modern-day Kyoto), this relatively new festival was only founded in 1895.
While the festival was first held as a celebration of Heian-Kyo’s anniversary, the procession–the centerpiece of the festival–was also meant to be a way for people to learn about the customs and traditional crafts of Kyoto stretching from the Meiji era (1868-1912) back to the Heian period (794-1185).
As the festival was a once a year chance for the deified emperors Kanmu and Komei to tour the city and see the townsfolk, the festival came to contain its shinko-retsu procession, which centers around a portable shrine.
Processions were gradually added over the years and what was initially a festival of just six processions, became the 2,000 people strong, 20 procession long festival that we know today.
The festival travels back through time, starting with the Meiji era and ending with the Heian period.
In many of the processions, you’ll also spot some of Japan’s most famous historical figures, including Murasaki Shikibu who wrote The Tale of Genji, and one of the most successful samurai in history, Oda Nobunaga. So if you’re a Japanese history buff, then make sure to not miss this festival.
Even if you’re not too knowledgeable about Japanese history, you’ll be able to witness the course of Japanese history through the various magnificent costumes and traditional garbs featured in the processions.
Faithfully Recreated Costumes
The clothes, hairstyles, and makeup of the people in the festival are all closely based on historical evidence.
Including the clothes, armor, horse tacks, bows and arrows and helmets, there are said to be approximately 12,000 different items used in the festival–each of which have been crafted with authentic traditional Kyoto techniques.
Every year, the festival's costumes are put together by an organization of well-established clothing stores called the "Dento Fukushoku Kogei Kyodo Kumiai" (lit. traditional clothing and crafts society).
As historical records are used to faithfully reconstruct the costumes with the same materials and ancient techniques, some of them are said to cost tens of millions of yen.
As these works of art are so faithfully recreated, if you get the chance to see the Jidai Matsuri in person, then we highly recommend paying close attention to them.
Faithfully Recreated Transport
Together with people's costumes, that transport used in each period is also faithfully recreated.
Seeing the various things people rode in each period gives you an interesting look into the customs and traditions of Japan at the time.
Pictured above is an oxcart, which since the Heian period has been used in Japan as a form of transport for nobility.
As these carts were used by nobles, they were made to hide riders’ faces. They were also beautifully decorated as Japan’s nobles would often compete with each other using such displays of wealth and splendor.
As you're seeing the different oxcarts and majestic samurai horses go by, think back on how Kyoto must have been at the time and imagine the kinds of people who would have been riding them.
Get Up Close with a Paid Seat!
*This picture was taken from the paid seats near the Heian Jingu Shrine
Tickets for the Jidai Matsuri’s paid seating areas go on sale in late September.
As these seats allow you to sit and relax for the entire two-hour-long festival, they are great for those with children and those who have trouble standing for long periods of time.
There are three areas in total; the “Kyoto Imperial Palace,” “Oike-dori Street” and the “Heian Jingu Shrine.”
As the procession passes the various areas at different times, it’s best to choose your seat based on time.
Kyoto Imperial Palace: approx. 12 p.m.
Oike-dori Street: approx. 12:50 p.m.
Heian Jingu Shrine: approx. 2:20 p.m.
All seats are reserved and come with an explanation pamphlet. Each seat is ¥3,000 (inc. tax).
Exclusive to the Oike-dori Street seating area, there is also an optional English audio guide provided by a Kyoto City certified interpreter.
For the seat, pamphlet and audio guide (provided on the day. Must return), it’s ¥4,100 (inc. tax).
On the day, you can also purchase just the pamphlet (includes English) for ¥500 (inc. tax). See below for where to buy.