The month of July is full of amazing summer festivals in Kyoto.
The Gion Matsuri or otherwise known as the Gion festival or the festival of the Yasaka Shrine is one of Japan’s biggest and most famous festivals held annually in Kyoto. It’s an event that is partly a street event and also bears a religious attachment to the people of Kyoto. As a visitor to Japan, you surely wouldn’t want to miss on such a great occasion.
The impressive nature of this event is pointed out by its long, uninterrupted history. Initially, the festival was held to offer prayers to appease the gods for deliverance from natural calamities that had hit Kyoto for some time. The first Gion Matsuri was held during the years 794 and 1185 mainly because of the devastating disasters including epidemics, earthquakes and floods that had happened. However, currently the event has become one of the most important days of celebration in the Japanese calendar not merely as a religious purification ritual but also as a way of showcasing the rich culture and way of life of Kyoto people.
The Gion Matsuri festival is usually held in the entire month of July and it comprises of a series of events. For a traveler visiting Japan, the main event is the procession of the floats known as Yamaboko Junko. The floats consist of 23 Yama and 10 Hoko. Both types of floats are beautifully and elaborately decorated and usually represent some special Japanese themes.
On the three days before the procession, from the 14th to the 16th, the magnificent floats are brought outside onto specific sections of Kyoto’s streets most commonly Shijo-dori street between Kamo-gawa river and Horikawa-dori. The events are known as Yoiyoiyoi-yama (on 14th), Yoiyoi-yama (on 15th) and Yoi-yama (on 16th). The events are characterized by street closure, eating and drinking and young men and women donning traditional regalia.
On the 17th of July, at between 9 and 11 am, the floats procession begins along Shijo-Karasama and Oike streets. As a visitor, you can enjoy the procession conveniently at street corners where you can delight in the magnificent floats.
Some insignificant but still enjoyable events include the assembling of the floats from scratch on the 10th to 14th July and the second smaller procession of fewer floats (Ato Matsuri) on 17th to 21st which takes a reverse route from the main procession.
So that is Gion Matsuri for you. As a world tourist with an interest in sampling different cultures, this special festival will surely give you a pleasant experience and open your eyes to the diversity of the Japanese way of life.
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