Kyoto’s matsuri festivals are held throughout the year. Every month, nearly every week, and at times it seems on any day, there is a traditional matsuri or holiday celebration under way somewhere in the city. Kyoto festivals and special events are so plentiful that the monthly Kyoto Visitor’s Guide can hardly fit all the details into the magazine’s thirty pages. Kyoto’s most famous festival, the Gion Matsuri, was recently added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Begun as a purification ritual to ward off deadly plagues more than 700 years ago, the Gion Festival transforms the city for the entire month of July. Extensive preparations by craft guilds, merchant families, and neighborhood organizations proceed amidst performances of traditional music and theater, culminating in the Gion Matsuri’s two epic parade processions. Each of the towering hoko floats and richly adorned yama floats, with their strikingly attired attendants, are really too overwhelming to fully absorb before the next amazing display is pulled or carried into view.
Festivals Of Kyoto Photo Gallery
Kyoto’s Aoi Matsuri, celebrated since the 6th century, is the world’s oldest festival and continues largely unchanged, a sedate procession of chaste elegance and period costume celebrating Heian culture. The Jidai Matsuri, Kyoto’s “Procession of the Eras,” begins with ceremonial services at sacred Heian Jingu Shrine, where the spirits of Heian’s two deified emperors are transferred to portable mikoshi shrines that are accompanied by marchers in traditional costumes from each historical era. The reverential and celebratory procession makes its circuitous way to the Imperial Palace before returning through Heian Jingu’s iconic towering torii gate.
The Ofune Hoko float during the Gion Ato-Matsuri Parade.
Participants in Gion’s Hanagasa Flower Hat Procession.
A performance of the Japanese biwa lute at Yasaka Shrine.
Musicians on a Gion Festival parade float on Shijo-dori Avenue.
A traditional dance with sensu folding fans at Heian Shrine.
A Gion Festival parade on Shijo-dori.
Boys in festival attire ride atop a yama pull-style float.
A procession of taimatsu torch bearers.
Fire walking at Tanukidani Fudo-in Temple.
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