The Gion Matsuri Festival fills the city with the sounds of Japanese flutes and bells. Kyoto in July is all about the Gion Matsuri Festival.
The Gion Matsuri Festival is one of Yasaka Jinja Shrine’s yearly rituals and is one of Japan’s three largest festivals. It developed as a festival of local Kyoto leaders, and is known far and wide for the great history and splendor of its events, whose great scale covers the course of an entire month. It has become known as “the” Japanese summer festival.
The festival’s origins date back about 1,100 years, when it is said people built 66 floats—the number of provinces in Japan at the time—mounted with pikes to pray for the end of a plague.
The festival begins on the 1st of July with Kippu-iri meetings, and lasts until the Nagoshisai Festival at Eki Jinja Shrine on the 31st, and includes a true diversity of rituals and events. When construction begins on Yamahoko (floats mounted with spears) in Kyoto streets large and small, the Gion Matsuri Festival music rises and fills them with excitement.
The greatest highlight of the festivities is the Yamahoko Float Procession. In 2014, for the first time in half a century, processions will be held twice, once on the 17th and once on the 24th. Of the 33 floats in the procession, 29 are designated as Important Tangible Cultural Properties. Decorated with works of art, including beautiful fabrics, carpets, and tapestries, the floats in the parade are like an outdoor, moving art gallery.
[Paid Viewing Seats]
Tickets are on sale for special viewing seats from which to comfortably view the Yamahoko Float Procession, the highlight of the festival. Tickets are available for purchase at the following booking website.
Tickets can be purchased from Lawson convenience stores across Japan, as well as main branches of JTB and Kinki Nippon Tourist travel stores.
[Gion Matsuri Festival Highlights]
July 14 (Sat) – 16 (Mon, a national holiday)
Held at each Yamahoko float location
In the evening, the area around Shijo-dori Street will be blocked off to cars, and the streets will be full of people. At each Yamahoko float location, the floats and their spears will be lavishly decorated, and “komagata” lanterns will be lit. With the streets lined with stalls, and the bells and whistles of Gion Matsuri Festival music playing, the festive atmosphere will reach its climax.
Festival-goers will be able to enjoy the twilight mood of the festival somewhat more leisurely on the 14th. People will also be able to get a good look at the important Naginata, Tsuki, and Kanko floats lined up on Shijo-dori Street before evening. Floats can be seen in all directions at the intersection of Shijo-dori and Muromachi-dori Streets, which is known as the “Hoko Float Crossing.” With the purchase of a special charm, festival-goers are allowed to climb up into the Tsuki, Kikusui, and some other floats.
[“Pedestrian Heaven” 6:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. (As currently planned)]
Car access to Shijo-dori Street between Yasaka Jinja Shrine and Horikawa-dori Street, Karasuma-Oike and Shijo-Takatsuji will be blocked off during the 15th and 16th. This area is subject to change.
[Ato Matsuri, or Latter Festival: Yoiyama]
July 21 (Sat) – 23 (Sun)
Visitors will be able to enjoy the beautiful and atmospheric spectacle of Yoiyama, with lanterns lit up, and the sound of Gion Matsuri Festival music ringing out. Take your time enjoying each location’s carefully designed decorations.
[Byobu Matsuri, or Folding Screen Festival]
Pre-Festival: July 14 (Sat) – 16 (Mon, a national holiday)
Latter Festival: July 21 (Sat) – 23 (Mon)
At machiya townhouses and shops in each Yamahoko neighborhood
Yoiyama itself is sometimes referred to as the “Folding Screen Festival.” During this part of the festivities, old houses in the Yamahoko neighborhoods will open their doors to the public to tatami rooms decorated with their personal folding screen (“byobu”) treasures, in just one of Yoiyama’s exciting events.
By walking around the Yamahoko neighborhoods, you should be able to see folding screen displays in the most unexpected places. During the event, visitors will also be able to enjoy the atmospheric quality of old Kyo-machiya houses lit up with lanterns.
[Saki Matsuri, or Pre-Festival: Yamahoko Float Procession]
July 17 (Tue), Procession begins at 9:00 a.m.
Floats will depart from Shijo Karasuma at 9:00 a.m. The sacred child, or “chigo,” riding on the “Naginatahoko” float will use a sword to cut through a sacred rope, ceremonially raising the curtain on the procession. The parade is a grand spectacle, in which the yamahoko floats, which are as tall as five-story buildings, proceed slowly along the streets. At the large intersections of Kawaramachi Shijo, Karamacahi Oike, and Oike Shinmachi, viewers will be able to see an incredible display as men pull the yamahoko floats with their full strength to change their direction. With multiple viewing locations, and the sound of Gion Matsuri Festival music echoing into the summer sky, it’s a marvelous scene as the floats continue by. Like an art museum in motion, this magnificent pageant will unfurl before festival on-lookers.
*Reservation-only viewing seats will be set up along Oike-dori Street.
[Ato Matsuri, or Latter Festival: Yamahoko Float Procession]
July 24 (Tue), Procession begins at 9:30 a.m.
This procession will depart at 9:30 a.m. from Karasuma Oike, moving in the opposite direction from the Saki Matsuri, or Pre-Festival Yamahoko Float Procession. The procession will be led by the Hashibenkei-yama float, and will pass from Kawaramachi-dori Street to go west on Shijo-dori Street. The rear of the parade will be brought up by the Ofune-hoko float, which was brought back in 2014 after an absence of 150 years. Viewers will be able to see the excitement of the floats being pulled to change direction at the Kawaramachi Oike and Kawaramachi Shijo intersections. The following Hanagasa, or Flower Umbrella Procession is also a sight to see!
[Yamahoko Float Construction]
Pre-Festival: July 10 (Tue) – 14 (Sat)
Latter Festival: July 10 (Tue) – 21 (Sat)
Conducted at each Yamahoko float location
Construction on yamahoko floats will begin on this day at their respective locations. The yamahoko floats will be constructed using traditional methods that involve only ropes, and no nails, making this one of festival’s impressive sights.
[Yamahoko Float Trial Pulling]
Pre-Festival: July 12 (Thu), 13 (Fri)
Latter Festival: July 20 (Fri), 21 (Sat)
Conducted at each Yamahoko float location
When the construction of the yamahoko floats is completed, the people of each Yamahoko community will begin trial pulls of their floats to the accompaniment of Gion Matsuri Festival music. Non-festival participants may participate as well.
July 1 (Sun) – 31 (Tue)
[Gion Matsuri Festival Month-long Event Calendar]
July 1 – 31 (dates are subject to change)
Two processions will be held, with the Saki Matsuri, or Pre-Festival Procession on the 17th (With 23 yamahoko floats), and the Ato Matsuri, or Post-Festival Procession on the 24th (With 10 yamahoko floats. This procession was brought back after a 49-year absence in 2014).
■Kippu-iri, held in each Yamahoko neighborhood
Signifying the beginning of the rituals, meetings will be held for the festival during Kippu-iri. A spear will be kept in each meeting place, as a symbol of an enshrined deity.
■Naginatahoko O-sendo Shrine Visit at Yasaka Jinja Shrine, 10:00 a.m.
Leaders in each Naginatahoko neighborhood will visit Yasaka Jinja Shrine with the “chigo” (a “sacred child” who performs several duties throughout the festival) and other children chosen to sit in the famous Naginataboko float this year, where they will pray for the safe completion of the festival rites.
■Kujitori (Lottery) Ceremony at Kyoto City Hall, 10:00 a.m.
The order of the festival procession will be determined by lot.
■Shrine Meeting of Float Groups at Yasaka Jinja Shrine, 11:30 a.m.
Prayers will be held at Yasaka Jinja Shrine for the safe completion of the festival.
■Lantern Reception 4:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
In preparation for the purification of Yasaka Jinja Shrine’s mikoshi (a portable shrine), a procession will leave the shrine along a path of paper lanterns. Children will perform the Sagi (Heron) and Komachi Dances.
■Mikoshi Purification at Shijo Ohashi Bridge, 8:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Yasaka Shrine’s mikoshi are carried to Shijo Ohashi Bridge, where they are ritually purified with water from the Kamo-gawa River.
■Saki Matsuri, or Pre-Festival: Yamahoko Float Construction
■Saki Matsuri, or Pre-Festival: Yamahoko Float-Pulling Trials
■Naginatahoko Sacred Child Visits Yasaka Jinja Shrine, 11:00 a.m.
The chigo (sacred child) chosen to sit in the Naginatahoko float will visit Yasaka Jinja Shrine to pray for the safety of the festival procession.
■Kuze Komagata-chigo Sacred Child Visits Yasaka Jinja Shrine, 2:00 p.m.
The “komagata-chigo” (sacred child) chosen from the Kuze district in south Kyoto will visit the shrine.
■Saki Matsuri, or Pre-Festival: Yoiyama
Leading to the climax of the festival
■Byobu, or Folding Screen Festival
■Performance of Traditional Arts at Yasaka Jinja Shrine’s Noh Theater, 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
■Tea Offering Ceremony at Yasaka Jinja Shrine, 9:00 a.m.
This service is provided every other year by the Omotesenke and Urasenke schools of tea ceremony.
Iwami Kagura Music Performance at Yasaka Jinja Shrine, Beginning at 6:30 p.m. (As currently planned)
■Yamahoko Float Procession, Saki Matsuri, or Pre-Festival Procession
Beginning at Shijo Karasuma at 9:00 a.m., continuing to Kawaramachi-dori Street and Oike-dori Street
■Shinko-sai Festival, 4:00 p.m.
■Mikoshi Transfer Ceremony
Traveling from Yasaka Jinja Shrine to Shijo , 6:00 p.m.
Yasaka Jinja Shrine’s three mikoshi, or portable shrines, will be transferred to their new temporary shrine on Shijo-dori Street in a procession through the shrine’s local district. Popularly known as “Omikossan,” the event is lively and popular with the locals.
■Silent Prayer at the Mikoshis’ Temporary Shrine
It is said that those who travel to these locations and pray silently for seven days will have their wishes granted.
■Ato Matsuri, or Latter-Festival: Yamahoko Float Construction
■Ato Matsuri, or Latter-Festival: Yamahoko Float-Pulling Trials
■Ato Matsuri, or Latter-Festival: Yoiyama and Byobu, or Folding Screen Festivals
■Sencha Kencha Tea Festival at Yasaka Jinja Shrine, 9:00 a.m.
Tea ceremony services will be provided by the head of a Kyoto Sencha (a kind of Japanese tea) school.
■Biwa (Japanese lute) Performance at Yasaka Jinja Shrine, 1:00 p.m. (As currently planned)
A performance with biwa (Japanese lutes) will be held.
■Yamahoko Float Procession, Ato Matsuri, or Latter-Festival Procession
Beginning at Karasuma Oike at 9:30 a.m., continuing to Kawaramachi-dori Street, and on to Shijo-dori Street
■Hanagasa, or Flower Umbrella Procession
Beginning at 10:00 a.m. from Yasaka Jinja Shrine to Kyoto City Hall, and back to Yasaka Jinja Shrine
Beginning at 5:00 p.m. at mikoshi locations on Shijo-dori Street, traveling to Yasaka Jinja Shrine
The three mikoshi portable shrines temporarily kept on Shijo-dori Street will begin their return to their shrine in a procession traveling throughout the shrine’s district.
■Kyogen and Noh at Yasaka Jinja Shrine Noh Theater, 1:00 p.m. (As currently planned)
A performance will be given by the Shigeyama Noh Theater Troupe.
■Mikoshi Purification Ceremony at Shijo Ohashi Bridge, 8:30 p.m.
As on the purification ceremony held on the 10th, once the mikoshi portable shrines have been purified, they will be placed into storage.
■Festival Summation at Yasaka Jinja Shrine, 4:00 p.m.
The end of the Gion Matsuri Festival will be announced before the deity of the Shinto shrine.
■Nagoshisai Festival at Eki Shrine, a sub-shrine of Yasaka Shrine, 10:00 a.m.
A sacred reed ring will be set up at the torii gate to Eki Jinja Shrine, within the grounds of Yasaka Jinja Shrine, through which people will pass to ward off misfortune.