Gion Matsuri (Festival) in Kyoto
Gion Matsuri (Festival) In Kyoto
Facts & Figures
The Gion Matsuri or otherwise known as the Gion festival or the festival of the Yasaka Shrine is one of Japan’s biggest and most famous festivals held annually in Kyoto. It’s an event that is partly a street event and also bears a religious attachment to the people of Kyoto. As a visitor to Japan, you surely wouldn’t want to miss on such a great occasion. The impressive nature of this event is pointed out by its long, uninterrupted history. Initially, the festival was held to offer prayers to appease the gods for deliverance from natural calamities that had hit Kyoto for some time. The first Gion Matsuri was held in 869 mainly because of the devastating disasters including epidemics, earthquakes and floods that had happened. However, currently the event has become one of the most important days of celebration in the Japanese calendar not merely as a religious purification ritual but also as a way of showcasing the rich culture and way of life of Kyoto people.
- Festival Information:
- The Gion Matsuri festival is usually held in the entire month of July and it comprises of a series of events. For a traveler visiting Japan, the main event is the procession of the floats known as Yamaboko Junko. The floats consist of 23 Yama and 10 Hoko. Both types of floats are beautifully and elaborately decorated and usually represent some special Japanese themes.
On the three days before the procession, from the 14th to the 16th of July, the magnificent floats are brought outside onto specific sections of Kyoto’s streets most commonly Shijo-dori street between Kamo-gawa river and Horikawa-dori. The events are known as Yoiyoiyoi-yama (on 14th), Yoiyoi-yama (on 15th) and Yoi-yama (on 16th). The events are characterized by street closure, eating and drinking and young men and women wearing traditional customs.
On the 17th of July, between 9 and 11 am, the floats procession begins along Shijo-Karasama and Oike streets. As a visitor, you can enjoy the procession conveniently at street corners where you can delight in the magnificent floats. Some insignificant but still enjoyable events include the assembling of the floats from scratch on the 10th to 14th July and the second smaller procession of fewer floats (Ato Matsuri) on 17th to 21st of July which takes a reverse route from the main procession. So that is Gion Matsuri for you. As a world tourist with an interest in sampling different cultures, this special festival will surely give you a pleasant experience and open your eyes to the diversity of the Japanese way of life.
Gion Matsuri is held along Kawaramachi, Shijo and Oike streets in Kyoto.
How to get to Gion Matsuri?
- 10min from Kyoto Station to Karasuma Oike Station served by Karasuma subway line
Sightseeing spots Shimogyo Ward
Higashi Honganji - Is the head temple of Shinshu Otani-ha, a branch of Pure Land Buddhism, called Shinshu Hombyo.
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Nishi Honganji Temple - The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.
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Koshoji Temple - Is the head temple of the Kosho sect of Jodo Shin Buddhism, a school of Pure Land Buddhism.
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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 am visiting 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.