Major Festivals and Annual Events in Kyoto
Major Festivals and Annual Events in Kyoto
Kyoto is full of cultural, artistic, and nature related events throughout the year.
Please enjoy the various events and seasons of Kyoto.
Jan. : Hatsumode (First Visit of the Year)
Merchants and many others visit Fushimi-Inari-taisha Shrine where the god of commerce is enshrined. Fushimi-Inari-taisha Shrine attracts more visitors coming to greet the New Year at midnight than almost any other shrines in Japan.
Feb. : Kyoto Marathon
This is a large-scale citizen participation type marathon held in Kyoto City. Providing a beautiful natural setting, the course takes runners on a memorable journey through seven World Heritage sites to Kyoto’s most famous landmarks. University students in Kyoto also take part in the marathon as volunteers or “Endo-moriagetai (music and dance performers along the streets)” to bring a lot of excitement to this event. While focusing on more eco-friendly activities, they strive to create an environmentally friendly competition as well.
Feb. : Kyoto Restaurant Winter Special
Specializing in Kyo-ryori (Kyoto cuisine) sushi, soba, yudofu (boiled tofu), French cuisine, Italian cuisine, Chinese cuisine, meat dishes, or other types of meals, Kyoto’s finest restaurants offer special menus at reasonable prices during this winter cuisine festival in February. The top flight restaurants provide you with a great opportunity to explore the quintessence of Japanese cuisine. Savor authentic Kyoto cuisine, infused with great local, seasonal ingredients!
Mar. : Higashiyama Hanatouro
As the spring tourist season gives way to March, you can experience a special illumination event called, “Higashiyama Hanatouro” at Higashiyama, one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto. Here, hundreds of lanterns made of bamboo and ceramic (”Andon”) line the evening streets and bamboo forest, illuminating the path and creating a magical atmosphere. Nearby temples and shrines also hold their own special illumination events.
Higashiyama Hanatouro features a variety of other events and exhibitions as well, including an extensive display of Ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement, a small concert with guitars and the ancient Shaku-hachi flute, and classical Geisha dance performances.
Apr. : Hanami (Cherry-blossom Viewing)
From the end of March through the beginning of April, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom all throughout Kyoto, people gather in parks in a Japanese tradition known as "Hanami" or cherry-blossom viewing.
In Maruyama Park, revelers eat, drink sake and beer, and sing beneath the beautiful cherry blossoms. The atmosphere is always festive.
Hirano-jinja Shrine, near Kitano-tenmangu Shrine, features hundreds of cherry trees and is especially popular with people who gather here to enjoy the cherry blossoms, eat, drink, and celebrate late into the night.
The banks of the Kamo-gawa River, which runs through downtown Kyoto, are beautifully colored by the cherry blossoms. Nakaragi-no-michi Street between Kitayama and Kita-oji is famous for having the most beautiful blossoms in all of Kyoto.
Tetsugaku-no-michi Street and the area around Heian-jingu Shrine are also famous as cherry blossom sites. Needless to say, Ninna-ji Temple's "Omuro-no-sakura" (group of cherry blossom trees) is also worth the experience.
Apr. : Miyako Odori
The Geiko (Geisha) and Maiko (apprentice Geisha) still carry out their traditional annual dances during the height of the cherry blossom season throughout the month of April. The most popular of these dances are the Miyako Odori “Cherry Blossom Dances” and “Dances of the Old Capital.” Spectators flock from all across Japan and the world to attend the event. Gion District Geisha prefer to be called Geiko, which means a woman skilled in dance and music.
May : Aoi Matsuri
The Aoi Festival is a festival of both the Shimogamo Shrine and the Kamigamo Shrine held in Kyoto City on May 15th. The official name of the festival is Kamo Festival. In the mid-6th century, a serious famine occurred. Emperor Kinmei asked a fortune teller for guidance to handle the problem. The fortune teller told the emperor that the famine was caused by the gods' anger. Therefore the emperor ordered a ceremonial festival to soften their anger. The festival today is known for its elegant parade with people dressed in classic costumes of the Heian Period.
Aoi Festival's highlight is its parade with people dressed in classic costumes of the Heian-period. Special carriages called 'Gosho Guruma' and oxcarts, which were common 1,000 years ago, can be seen. The name of the festival was derived from the fact that starting in 1694, everything in the procession, such as the people, carts and the oxcarts, became to be decorated with hollyhock leaves, which are called "aoi" in Japanese. The parade starts from the Kyoto Imperial Palace and proceeds through town to the Shimogamo Shrine, and then on to the Kamigamo Shrine. It seems like a reproduction of a historical scene from an ancient scroll.
Jun. : Kawayuka (Riverside Summer Terrace)
When thinking of Kyoto's summer, one thinks of its famous Kawayuka (riverside terrace), an aspect of the city's culture dating back over 300 years. With the advent of summer, restaurateurs build wooden platforms on and above the city's rivers. Patrons eat delicious food on these Kawayuka as they are soothed and refreshed by the sounds and cool breeze of the river.
The Kawayuka of the Kamogawa River, Takao, and Kibune regions of Kyoto are all well known, and in each region the Kawayuka take a different form. It is possible to enjoy until around September from around May.
Jul. : Gion Matsuri
"Gion Matsuri" is a large festival held by Yasaka-jinja Shrine with over 30 events in the month of July. The origin of this festival was a religious ritual to calm the plague that spread all over the country in 869.
The highlight of this festival is "Yamahoko Junko" held on the 17. In this event, over 30 decorated wagons called "Hoko" and "Yama" are pulled by people and paraded around town. It is registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Children and adults ride on Yamahoko and play the festival music with whistles and bells to boost the festival mood. In the evening after the Yamahoko Junko is over, Shinkosai is held at Yasaka Shrine. Watching over a thousand men wearing Happi (loose informal Japanese coat) and carrying Mikoshi (portable shrines) is sheer excitement.
Also, we recommend event packed Yoiyama, which is the pre-festival of "Yamahoko Junko". From the 14 through 16, Yamahoko are built on the street for 3 days, and you can see inside of the Yamahoko during that time. "Byobu Matsuri" is held where old families and long established stores present their treasured byobu (decorative screens), kimono, and paintings and calligraphic works. There will be roadside stands that sell snacks and sweets unique to Japan.
Aug. : Kyo no Tanabata
In the annual Tanabata Festival (Star Festival), people write their wishes on strips of paper and hang the strips on bamboo branches in the hope that the stars will make their wishes come true. This festival began around the year 700 and originates in a Chinese legend where the lovers “Hikoboshi (the star Altair in the constellation Aquila)” and “Orihime (the star Vega in the constellation Lyra)”, separated by the “Milky Way”, are able to meet only once a year on the night of July 7.
In the “Kyo no Tanabata” (Kyoto Tanabata) event, Kyoto’s unique atmosphere adds to the regular Tanabata Festival. If you write your wishes on a special postcard, your postcard will be used to decorate one of the traditional temples or shrines in Kyoto. You can also rent a “yukata” (casual summer kimono) and receive some help with putting it on. Meanwhile, in areas neighboring the Horikawa River sites of the “Kyo no Tanabata” event, a wide variety of events including bamboo and light motif art work exhibitions and concerts are held.
Aug. : Gozan no Okuribi (Mountain Bon Fire)
Gozan no Okuribi is a traditional event that takes place in Kyoto during the Obon Festival (Festival of the Ancestors) on August 16 every year. On each of the five mountains that surround the city, giant bonfires are set alight. Three of the fires are in the shape of kanji, the Chinese characters used in Japanese writing. These bonfires are known individually as “Daimonji”, “Hidari Daimonji”, and “Myo-hou”. The other two fires are in the shapes of a boat and a Shinto shrine gate respectively and are called the “Funagata” and “Toriigata”.
There are a number of explanations about the origins of Gozan no Okuribi. The festival has long been close to the hearts of the people of Kyoto and is said to have roots in the 13th century. This tradition is tied together with beliefs surrounding memorial services for departed ancestors on August 15 known as Obon Festival. The Okuribi were meant to guide the souls of the ancestors who return to this world during the Obon period back to the world beyond. The Okuribi are also believed to protect against evil. In addition, drinking water which reflects the light of the Gozan no Okuribi is believed to prevent paralysis.
Burning wood strips of cedar known as “Gomagi” in the torches of the Okuribi is a way of praying. Along with the Aoi Matsuri (The Hollyhock Festival), the Gion Festival, and Jidai Matsuri (The Parade of Eras), the Gozan no Okuribi is called one of the four great events of Kyoto.
Sep. : KYOMAF=KYOTO INTERNATIONAL MANGA ANIME FAIR
This is Western Japan’s largest manga and anime trade fair and is held in Miyakomesse (Kyoto City Convention Complex) and some other places. Main exhibitors include various businesses and organizations, which aim to spread and boost the manga and anime industry, such as publishing firms, anime producers, broadcasting companies, film makers, and educational institutions. Each booth features a display of popular manga and anime series, many events, PR activities for brand-new collections, and special goods sales.
Oct. : Kurama no Himatsuri (Fire Festival)
In the small town of in the northern suburb of Kyoto, a huge energetic fire festival takes place on October 22 every year. Its original purpose was to illuminate the path through the world of the living for the spirits of the departed.
The festival begins at 6 pm and continues until past midnight. Tall fires are lit in front of homes in Kurama to mark the opening of the ceremony. A procession of boys carrying small torches follows, and later teams of men chanting and marching to the rhythms of drums carry larger and larger torches, the largest of which weighs 100 kilograms. The torch bearers finally converge in front of and a portable shrine, or mikoshi, is carried through the smoky streets until the festival ends. This is a truly unique festival and should be seen by anyone in Kyoto on the day it takes place.
Oct. : Jidai-Matsuri Festival
The Jidai-Matsuri Festival, one of the biggest festivals in Kyoto, takes place on October 22 every year. In part it is a costume show, and in other part it is a history lesson, the festival procession of several hundred marchers dressed in exquisite costumes from the various periods of Kyoto history winds its way from the Old Imperial Palace to Heian-jingu Shrine.
Heian-jingu Shrine enshrines two emperors, Emperor Kammu, who moved the capital to Kyoto, and the last emperor from Kyoto, Emperor Komei. This festival began on the 1,100th anniversary of the founding of the capital. On Oike-dori Street, a viewing platform is set up to accommodate viewers.
Nov. : Autumn Foliage
The month of November is the best season of the year for viewing the vibrant crimson maple leaves in Kyoto. Just as in spring when the cherry blossoms bloom, this season is also when the largest number of tourists visit Kyoto.
Tofuku-ji Temple, Takao, Arashiyama, Ohara and Higashiyama, etc. are among the most popular spots for viewing maple leaves.
Dec. : Arashiyama Hanatouro
As the autumn tourist season gives way to December, you can experience a special illumination event called “Arashiyama Hanatouro” at Arashiyama, one of Kyoto’s most popular sightseeing areas. Here, hundreds of lanterns made of bamboo and ceramic line the evening streets and bamboo forest, illuminating your path and creating a magical atmosphere. Nearby temples and shrines also hold their own special illumination events.
Arashiyama Hanatouro features a variety of other events and exhibitions, including an extensive display of Ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement, a small concert with guitars and the ancient Shaku-hachi flute, and juggling.
Dec. : Jyoya no Kane (Omisoka New Year’s Eve)
Around midnight on New Year’s Eve, all temples ring their large bronze bells 108 times in a tradition called “Joya-no-kane”.
Why 108 times? In Buddhism, it is said that humans have 108 earthly desires that are the sources of all suffering, and each toll of the bell helps people rid themselves of one of these desires.
By bringing out the old and bringing in the new, each earthly desire is shed so the New Year can begin with a pure mind. The final toll rings just after midnight.