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The Aoi Matsuri is one of Kyoto’s three biggest festivals which has a long history of about 1500 years. Every year on May 15, more than 500 people dressed in traditional Heian period clothes walk through the town of Kyoto. The festival originated around 539-571 when disastrous rains and strong winds ruined the crops. The Emperor at that time had a ritual to pray for a good harvest that successfully stopped the rains and winds. It is considered as the most graceful festival in Japan because it recreates the festival as it was for Heian nobles (the noblemen in Heian period) while many other festivals are for the general public. It is a big event in spring in Kyoto.
- Kyoto, Kyoto (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Shimogamo shrine, Kamigamo shrine) *Events occur at different locations
- Contact No.
- Kyoto Imperial Palace: from Kyoto station, take a subway on Karasuma line. Get off at Imadegawa station or Marutamachi station. Walk for 5 minutes. Shimogamo shrine: from Kyoto station, take city bus No.4 or No.205. Get off at the bus stop Shimogamo-jinja mae. Kamigamo shrine: from Kyoto station, take city bus on route 4 bound for Kamigamo-jinja. Get off at the last stop.
- Official Website
- Time Required
- Half a day
- Every year on May 15 (postponed in case of rain)
※ Some information is displayed in Japanese and machine-translated English, which may not be accurate.
For the latest information, please check the official website for each spot.
The parade departs from the Kyoto Imperial Palace where the past Emperors resided until 1869, works its way towards the Shimogamo shrine and finally the Kamigamo shrine. The highlight of the festival is “Roto-no-gi” (procession). The parade consists of two processions, the main procession and the Saiodai. The total length of the parade of 500 people reaches as long as 1 kilometer! They walk for about 8 km to the goal i.e., Kamigamo shrine. The Saiodai is the procession of beautiful ladies. The most gorgeous portable shrine carries the heroine, Saiodai, the lady offered by the Imperial Family to serve God. Today, an unwed woman in Kyoto is chosen to play the role.
Shato-no-gi (ceremony at Shimogamo shrine)
When the parade arrive at Shimogamo Shrine, a ceremony called Shato-no-gi is held. This event is when the messenger of the Emperor offers gifts to the God. It is the scene of communication between the God and humans that has been seen every year on May 15 for 1500 years. This is followed by presenting sacred horses of a shrine, and the traditional ceremonial dance called Azuma-asobi before the ceremony ends.
Arrival at Kamigamo Shrine
The parade restarts after Shato-no-gi. It finally reaches the goal i.e., Kamigamo shrine while conducting Roto-no-gi on the way. This is followed by another Shato-no-gi at Kamigamo shrine before the parade is disbanded.
Yabusame-shinji (horseback archery)
Aoi Matsuri has many pre-festival events called “zengi” ahead of the main event on May 15. Especially, Yabusame-shinji (horseback archery) held in Shimogamo Shrine attracts many visitors every year. It is a sacred ritual to pray for the safety of the procession and purify the route. The archer in a noble-style, official costume releases the arrows toward the targets from a galloping horse. The enthusiastic cheers and applause are heard from the spectators when the arrow hits and breaks the mark.
Saiodai Purification Ritual
Saiodai Purification Ritual is held on May 4. Saiodai and 40 servants who participate in the procession soak their hands in water and purify themselves. Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine take turns to conduct this event every year.