Kyoto’s 1,100 year summer festival, the“Gion Matsuri”(MOVIE)

“Gion Matsuri”is considered one of the three largest festivals in Japan. During July 1st to July 31st, several different events are held for the purpose of promoting good health. The highlight is the Yamahoko Junko parade, held on July 17th. It is so majestic to see the large, 10-ton Yamahoko paraded through the streets of Kyoto. There are also events that you can participate in and others that are not commonly known among the majority of people.

Yamahoko parade

Gion Matsuri, in hopes for good health

The summer has finally arrived! Gion Matsuri is held in Kyoto, again! The sound of the instrument, “Ohayashi” brings nostalgia to people in Kyoto and gets them ready for the celebration!
Gion Matsuri is held by Yasaka Shrine, which enshrines Susano-no-mikoto, the God that prevents curses and disasters. Its been celebrated by the people of Kyoto for 1,100 years. During July 1st to July 31st, several different events are held in hopes for good health.

Ohayashi instruments

It has so much to see!

The highlight is Yamahoko Junko (pre festival), held on 16th July 16th and July 17th.
It will be hard to get a hotel room in the Kansai area if you are coming during this time, but please try to visit, because it’s really fun!

Shimanawa kiri, cutting ritual

About Yoiyama (July 16th) and Yamahoko Junko (July 17th)

As a pre-festival, there are Yoiyama events held on the 14th, 15th, and 16th. During this time, the Yamahoko that will parade in the streets on the 17th are displayed. The lanterns attached to Yamahoka are lit with fire and illuminate the city of Kyoto, creating a mystical atmosphere.
From 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. on the 15th and 16th of July, some areas will become pedestrian malls. I found a map here, so please refer it for your trip.

The 17th is the highlight.
At 9:00 a.m., many Yamahoka will depart the Shijo-karasuma area, being pulled by people.
Here are some points you should not miss:
The ritual called “Shimenwawa-kiri”(cutting the straw garland) is held around Shijofuyacho. It’s purpose is to emancipate the boundary around God and to let the Yamahoko into God‘s sphere. People are competing in“Tsuji-mawashi”, the competition to see how well they can turn a corner with a Yamahoko. Some groups from certain areas of the city are known to be good, and vice versa. People will applause if they can do it quickly. I found the map for it here.


Other things you should not miss in Gion Matsuri.

There are many other events where you can ‘get a taste of’ this festival.
Around July 12th, each local town starts the practice called “Hiki-hajime”, to see if they can pull the Yamahoko on the 17th. People, including women can join in this event. It’s fun to take pictures and even participate in pulling the Yamahoko. It’ll be less of hassle than the 17th, so I recommend it.

If you missed the 17th, there are still things to see. On July 24th, they’ll have an after party called “Ato-matsuri”. There will not be as many Yamahoko as on the 17th, but 9 Yama and 1 Hoko will parade the streets. The hoko, “Ofune-hoko”has been revived for 2014 after a 150 year hiatus.
Shinkosai and Kankosai are held after Junko and are the ones I really recommend that you see! Three Mikoshi, which carry the enshrined God of Yasaka Shrine, parade the purified street in hopes for good health in Kyoto.

Kyoto's bridge

Let’s go to Gion Matsuri this year!

During the festival, the sound of Ohayashi is always heard coming from Yama and Hoko. I’m so moved by the way people in Kyoto prepare for this yearly event. These people have preserved peace in Kyoto for over 1,100 years, and I am proud of that. Please visit Gion Matsuri if you are in or around Kyoto during July.


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