Aoi Matsuri

Aoi Festival

See ancient Kyoto brought to life at the Aoi Matsuri

The Aoi Matsuri, also known as the Hollyhock Festival, is a spring festival that takes place in central Kyoto on May 15th every year. It is one of the three major festivals of Kyoto, along with the Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri. The Aoi Matsuri offers a unique opportunity to witness the rich history of Kyoto and see locals dressed in ancient costumes.

The festival is believed to have originated in the 7th century as a way to appeal to the gods after a storm destroyed the harvest. The emperor of that time made offerings to the gods of the Shimogamo and Kamigamo Shrines, which were believed to be responsible for the destruction. As a result of these offerings, the harvest was saved. Due to its close association with these shrines, the festival is also known as the Kamo Matsuri.

One of the main highlights of the Aoi Matsuri is the grand procession that takes place during the festival. Around 500 participants march in Heian-period attire, which dates back to the years 794-1185. The central figure of the procession is the Saio, who wears a silk kimono weighing 30 kilograms. The Saio is an unmarried woman who is chosen each year to play the role of the high priestess of the Kamigamo and Shimogamo Shrines. Before the festival, she undergoes purification rituals and is carried on a palanquin during the procession.

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The procession begins at the Imperial Palace and makes its way north, stopping at the Shimogamo Shrine. Ceremonies are performed at the shrine for two hours before the procession continues to the Kamigamo Shrine. Many spectators choose to watch the procession as it moves from one shrine to the other, which takes about an hour. The parade is a spectacular sight to behold, with the Saio and other participants dressed in extravagant costumes of the Heian period. Hollyhock leaves, a symbol of protection from natural disasters, are worn by the procession.

To attend the Aoi Matsuri, you can easily access central Kyoto by public transportation. The Imperial Palace can be reached by bus from Kyoto Station, followed by a short walk. Kamigamo Shrine is accessible by taking the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station and then a two-minute walk to the Kitaoji bus stop. From there, take bus number three to Kamigamo Misonohashi bus stop and walk for about five minutes. To reach Shimogamo Shrine, take the Keihan Line from Kyoto Station to Demachiyanagi Station and then walk north for about 10 minutes.

If you want to secure a good spot to watch the parade, you can pay for seating along the parade route at the Imperial Palace and Shimogamo Shrine. The cost is 2,500 yen and tickets can be purchased at convenience stores or travel agencies. Seats at Kamigamo Shrine are either 1,000 yen or 5,000 yen, depending on the location, and can only be purchased at the shrine.

The Aoi Matsuri is not only a celebration of Kyoto’s rich history and culture, but it is also an appeal for protection and a way to honor the gods. It is a fascinating event that offers a glimpse into the ancient traditions and customs of Kyoto. Attending the Aoi Matsuri is a truly unique experience that shouldn’t be missed if you have the opportunity to visit Kyoto in May.

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3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto-fu


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