Gion Matsuri: Kyoto's Most Famous Festival

Japanese culture often confuses the outsider, and Kyoto’s multifaceted float parade-cum-kimono display is no exception.

Location

Shijo-dori, Kyoto, Japan

Dates

Entire month of July. Key dates are 17th and 24th July.

Description

The procession of yamaboko floats on 17 July remembers the occasion in AD 869 when 66 halberd-carrying dignitaries, each representing a Japanese province, trooped through Kyoto to beseech Gozu Tenno, the god of plague, to give the city a break. It takes up to 40 people to move the teetering temples on wheels. For three mornings from 10 July, you can watch them being built out of huge, carved blocks, some weighing more than 10 tonnes.

The construction over, along with the purification of the portable shrines in the river, Kyoto gets down to business of celebration. Devotional performances take place, including one by dancers in heron costumes. Gaggles of white-faced teenage girls click through the streets in wooden clogs and yukata (summer kimonos). Residences in the merchant quarter play ‘open house’, offering the chance to see Japanese heirlooms in their original setting.

A star of the parade itself is chigo, a local boy who rides the main yamaboko wearing Shinto robes and a golden phoenix crown. The poor lad has to undergo weeks of purification. Gion Matsuri lasts throughout July, but is mostly colourful in the middle of the month.

Level of Participation

2 – be thankful your not chigo.

Other Local Attractions

The imperial capital until 1868, Kyoto has hundreds of temples and gardens.

More InfoKyoto City tourist Information

Couple eating food with chopsticks and smiling

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