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Aoi Matsuri Festival

Aoi Matsuri Festival

What is the Aoi Matsuri Festival?

On May 15 Kamigamo and Shimogamo Jinja Shrines hold their annual festival which is popularly known as Aoi Matsuri, because Aoi leaves (Asarum Caulescens, species of wild ginger) are the keynote of the decoration.
They are found on the court dresses, on the carriage and even on the heads and clothes of the participants. This festival is one of the three big festivals (Aoi, Gion and Jidai) in Kyoto.

It is one of the most solemn and graceful festivals in Japan and it has been well preserved throughout the ages since the 6th century. From the viewpoint of the history of Japanese manners and customs, it is a very valuable reminder of the past since it has faithfully followed the old customs.

The most attractive feature in this fete is the Imperial Messenger's Procession consisting of a gorgeous carriage pulled by an ox, flowered umbrellas, courtiers and court ladies in traditional costumes which revive the noble court life in the Heian period (794-1185).


The festival is of remote origin. In the reign of the Emperor Kinmei (the 6th century), people suffered from terrible storms that raged throughout the country. After the Emperor practiced a divination, he found that the deities of Kamo shrines had been angry at people’s ingratitude and impiety and that caused the disaster. So the Emperor sent his messenger to the shrines to pay homage to the deities and performed the solemn rites at the shrines. Then the deities were pacified and the storms calmed down. People were able to reap bountiful harvests.
Since then the custom was handed down from generation to generation to the Heian period, when the fete came to attain its present magnificence and color.


The fete consists of two rituals: Roto-no-Gi (Procession) and Shato-no-Gi (The ritual held on the shrine premises)
The procession is most popular for its splendor which includes 511 people, 36 horses, 4 oxen and 2 Gissha (carriages). The procession runs 1 kilometer from front to back. Since old times the people of Kyoto have swarmed by the thousands along its routes and have enjoyed themselves watching the elegant procession.

About the Aoi Matsuri Festival Procession

 At 10:30 a.m. the procession starts from the Imperial Palace in accordance with a timehonored form. It is made up of two parts : the imperial messengers’s retinue and the Saio-Dai, a young woman who in the Heian period was an imperial princess.

The Route of the Procession

May 15In case of rain postponed to 16

Kyoto Imperial Palace1030)→Sakaimachi Gomon GateMarutamachi-dori St.Kawaramachi-dori St.Shimogamo Jinja ShrineAr.1140)→ Shimogamo Jinja ShrineLv.1420)→Shimogamohondori St.→ Rakuhoku Highschool1440)→Kitaoji-dori St.Kitaoji Bashi Bridge1455)→ Kamigamo Jinja ShrineAr. 1530

The time stated above is the estimated arrival time of the head of the procession. For the entire procession to pass a single location takes about an hour. (Time stated above will be sometimes a little behind schedule.)
Flash photography is prohibited. It may startle oxen and horses.
Please beware when using city buses: traffic restriction is enforced around the parade route.

Major Viewing Spots & Access

・Inside the Kyoto Imperial Park
A short walk from Subway Karasuma Line “Marutamachi” Sta.

・The Intersection of Kawaramachi-dori St. & Imadegawa-dori St.
5-minute walk from Keihan Railway “Demachiyamagi” Sta.

・Shimogamo Jinja Shrine
(only limited space available besides the reserved seating areas)
10-minute walk from Keihan Railway “Demachiyanagi” Sta.

・Kitaoji Bashi Bridge
5-minute walk from Subway Karasuma Line “Kitaoji” Sta.

・Kamigamo Jinja Shrine

Detail of the Aoi Matsuri Festival Procession

The Main Group of the Procession: Honretsu
Leading the procession on horseback,who is called Norijiri. They served as jockeys in a sacred horse race held at Kamigamo Jinja Shrine on May 1st. The different colors of their jackets mean they were opponents in the race.

The forerunner in dress of a warrior of the Edo period (the 17th century).

Police officer of lower position.

Courtiers of lower position.

Officers of old police and court administration.

Guard-soldiers guarding the boxes in which the offerings to the deities are kept.

Vice-Governor of Yamashiro (the old name of Kyoto Prefecture). As the procession passed the roads which were governed by the prefectural office, he joined the procession to guard it.

The horses for consoling the deities. These horeses are dedicated to the deities after the demonstration of them running in front of the shrines.

This is a carriage well-known as “Gosho-Guruma”. Since the Heian period this was used for the transportation of Emperors and courtiers of high rank. The roof and sides are colorfully decorated with wisterias, irises and plums. The carriage is pulled by an ox decorated in full and goes very slowly, giving squeaking sounds.


These six warriors offer their dances in front of the shrine. In ancient times warriors were well-trained both in martial and cultural arts.

The seven warriors who play music. They carry the ancient music instruments, Kotos (Japanese harp) and so on.


An imperial messenger with a sword decorated with gold, riding on a horse.

Followers of the imperial messenger.

A spare horse for the imperial messenger, equipped with a saddle and stirrups of gorgeous lacquerware.

Big umbrellas, colorfully decorated with artificial flowers are carried by men who are decorated with the same flowers as the umbrellas. These are also called “Hanagasa” (Flower Umbrellas).

©Toru Miyake

A courtier who carries a ritual address which is to be read by the imperial messenger.

The Procession of Saio-Dai: Saio-Dai Retsu

In the 8th century, the Emperor decided to appoint one of his daughters as a holly maiden who commited herself to the service of the deity.
Such princesses were called “Saio”. After receiving hard training, they became the head priestesses of the Shrine. The system of the “Saio” had lasted for almost 400 years until the middle of the 13th century. She is called “Saio-Dai” now. Saio-Dai is seated in a palanquin carried on men’s shoulders. She is followed by suites, warriors, court ladies, carriages for high ranked court ladies and so on.


Shrine maidens on horseback follow Saio-Dai.

Court ladies who served in the inner court as servants also escort Saio-Dai.

Gissha for Saio-Dai Procession

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