Aoi Matsuri (Festival) in Kyoto
Aoi Matsuri Yabusame Demonstration
Facts & Figures
The Aoi Matsuri, otherwise known as the Hollyhock festival or the Kamo festival, is one of the three major annual festivals alongside the Jidai Matsuri and Gion Matsuri held in Kyoto. It is a festival for the Kamo shrines, the Shimogamo shrine and the Kamigamo shrine. Aoi Matsuri is regarded as the oldest festival of Kyoto. It dates back to the 7th century when a series of natural disasters occurred that were believed to have been caused by the gods of the Kamo shrines. The ruler of the time, Emperor Kinmei (509 - 571), made some rites to appease the gods and the disasters subsided. Since then, different rulers have made visits to the shrines. The Aoi Matsuri was established as a festival in the year 807. It reached its prominence during the Heian period (794 - 1185) and has continued to become one of Japan’s most important festivals.
- Festival Information:
- The Aoi Matsuri is held every 15th of May. Though the main attraction of the festival is on this date, the celebration begins actually on the 3rd, where a display of archery is done on horseback (yabusame). The events on the 3rd and the 5th are also worth seeing and interesting for a visitor. On the 4th, the purification ritual known as Saio Dai Misogi is held and on the 5th there is the Busha Shinji ritual. On the 5th and on the 12th, the Kurabe uma-e Shinji ritual and the Mikage Festival are held respectively.
The festival’s main focus is on the 15th where there is a procession and rites done at the shrines. The procession is usually led by the imperial messenger followed by ox-driven carts, horses, cows and 600 people. All people in the procession are dressed in traditional Heian regalia decorated with the leaves of the aoi (hollyhock), hence the other name of the festival. The procession on the 15th begins from the Kyoto Imperial Palace at around 10.30 heading to the two shrines. At the shrine, the Saio-Dai, a young female member of the imperial family, pays respects to the shrine with the imperial messenger acknowledging the god’s continued favor. Private proceedings are also usually held on each shrine which involves presenting the emperor’s petition and also a long period where gifts are given. As a visitor interested in Japanese culture, the Aoi Matsuri festival is one that you wouldn’t want to miss. If you wish to delight in the event, it’s appropriate that you catch the procession early at the start, at the imperial palace and during the rituals at the Kamo shrines.
Kyoto Imperial Palace (start point of Aoi Matsuri procession) is located in Kamigyo Ward in the center of Kyoto.
Address: Kyoto Gyoen 3, Kamigyo-ku, 602-0881 Kyoto City
How to get to Kyoto Imperial Palace?
- 10min from Kyoto St. to Marutamachi or Imadegawa St. by Karasuma Subway Line
Sightseeing spots Kamigyo Ward
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine - The shrine is dedicated to the politician, poet and scholar Sugawara no Michizane (845 - 903).
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Kyoto Imperial Palace - The palace was home of the Emperor and its family till 1868.
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Shokokuji Temple - The temple belongs to the five great Zen temples of Kyoto (Kyoto Gozan).
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Festival & Events in Kyoto (dates can change without notice)
Miyako Odori (1st - 31th)
The traditional annual spring dance of the Kyoto district Gion Kobu performed by Geiko and Maiko is a must-see on your Kyoto visit. Don't miss the most popular dances the Miyako Odori "Cherry Blossom Dances" or "Dances of the Old Capital" at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater (located close to Gion Corner).
Aoi Matsuri (15th)
The highlight of this festival is a large parade from Imperial Palace through Shimogamo Shrine to the Kamo Shrines. More than 500 people wearing aristocratic costumes from the Heian Period (794 - 1185). The Aoi Matsuri belongs with the Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri to the three most famous festivals in Kyoto.
Arashiyama Mifune Matsuri (third Sunday of May)
The first part is held at the Kuramazaki Shrine. Later a procession is leading to the Oi River, where more ceremonies and traditional dances (Funa Asobi) are held. The Arashiyama Mifune Matsuri started in 1914.
Gion Matsuri (whole month)
The month July is full of different events like the Yoiyama - Kyoto's Magical Night (locals in kimonos look at the giant Gion floats the day before the parade) or the famous Yamaboko Junko (float procession on the 17th of July).
Jidai Matsuri ("Festival of Ages") (22nd)
People celebrate with a large parade between Imperial Palace to Heian Shrine the anniversary of the foundation of Kyoto. App. 2000 participants wearing historical costumes from different time periods. Enjoy this great festival which last around 2 hours.
Where to stay in Kyoto?
Day trips from Kyoto:
My 100 Best Moments in Japan
I have visited Japan nearly every year since 2004. This is my collection of the 100 best moments in my favourite country. Enjoy the pictures and I hope you will start your own journey soon.
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