Jul 1, 2013

Summer is here! Get ready for Gion Festival!

Kyoto's Original Festival Dedicated to the Capital

Gion Matsuri - synonymous to Kyoto's summer. Being not only Kyoto's, but also one of Japan's three largest festivals, the Gion Festival is celebrated by all Kyoto locals and visitors from afar. The city of Kyoto becomes filled the with energy of people who have waited for this month since the previous year. The mere ''Kon-chiki-chin'' of the Gion Bayashi music ignite this town and create a festive mood.

Traditional rituals and events related to this amazing festival are held throughout the month of July. Join in this year's Gion Festival and experience the wonders of Kyoto's history, craft and people.

Gion Matsuri Main Event Calendar

Naginata-boko Osendo
From 10:00 at Yasaka Shrine, this year's Chigo (the sacred page boy who rides on the leading Naginata-boko) visits Yasaka Shrine and prays for safety during the festival.
Omukae Chochin Welcoming Lanterns

Men wearing formal kimono depart from Yasaka Shrine at 16:30. They escort children dressed up in gorgeous traditional outfits and head west along Shijo to Kawaramachi. Their role is to welcome the mikoshi portable shrines carried out of Yasaka Shrine later in the evening.  

Hoko and Yama Construction

The festival's 32 floats are assembled in the communities they belong to. This is a great opportunity for getting a close up look at the floats.

Hoko & Yama Trial Pulling

The people of each respective float community try carrying or pulling the newly constructed floats, accompanied by Gion Bayashi music, to ensure that they are ready for the parade on the 17th.

Yasaka Shrine Visit by Naginata-boko & Kuze Komagata Chigo

This year's Chigo (the sacred page boy) who rides on the leading Naginata-boko and another Chigo from Kuze region who leads mikoshi portable shrines in the Shinko-sai & Kanko-sai Festival visit Yasaka Shrine and pray for safety during the festival (11:00 & 14:00).


On the three nights before the grand parade, the festival's energy reaches its peak. The streets west of Karasuma and south of Oike are crowded with people looking at the lit up Yama & Hoko floats. Gion Bayashi music fills the air, and countless stalls are set up along the colorfully decorated streets.

Folding Screen Display
On these days the old textile merchant homes and businesses on Shinmachi and Muromachi open up the front parts of their homes and shops to show off their valuable folding screens and other treasures.

Traditional Theatre Performance Dedication

From 15:00 to 18:00, traditional Japanese theatre performances (kabuki, biwa lute, harp, kyogen, dance, sword play, etc.) will be performed on the stage in the center of Yasaka Shrine.

Iwami Kagura

From 18:30 at Yasaka Shrine, ancient court dance called Iwami Kagura Shinto dance and music will be performed to the music of flutes and bells.

Yama Hoko Grand Parade
At 9:00, the leading Naginata-boko starts forward. When it reaches Fuyacho Street, the float's Chigo cuts a straw rope with a sword and the parade begins.

Shinko-sai Festival

At 18:00, the shrine deities that preside over the festival are transported in three special mikoshi (portable shrine) from Yasaka Shrine to the Otabisho. More than 1,000 people will participate in this important procession.

Biwa Lute Music Dedication

From 13:00 at Yasaka Shrine, traditional biwa (Japanese lute) music will be played for the deity.

Hanagasa Flower Procession

At 10:00, about ten large umbrella floats attended by nearly 1,000 people depart from Yasaka Shrine. Various dances are performed as part of this event.

Kanko-sai Festival
From 17:00, many people join to carry the three mikoshi from Otabisho back to Yasaka Shrine. When mikoshi arrive at the shrine, special prayers will be held to welcome the spirits back to their main ''home''. This ceremony ends around midnight.

Kyogen Performance

At 13:00, the Shigeyama Family will perform special kyogen (comical theatre) plays at Yasaka Shrine.

Mikoshi Arai Purification

As on the 10th, the mikoshi are again purified on Shijo Bridge at 20:00 before they are stored away until the following year.

Nagoshi Summer Purification

This event completes the one-month-long festival. The ceremony starts at 10:00 at Yasaka Shrine. A huge circular chinowa wreath made of long green rushes is set up in the shrine precinct. Passing through the wreath is said to purify the spirit and ward off illness in the coming year. 

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