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Monday, May 14, 2007

Aoi Festival Kyoto


Kyoto’s Aoi Matsuri, or Hollyhock Festival, is an annual festival that climaxes on May 15th with a procession that moves from the Gosho Imperial Palace via Shimogamo Shrine to Kamigamo Shrine.

Aoi Matsuri KyotoAoi Matsuri is thought to be one of the world's oldest festivals. It dates to the sixth century following the destruction of one year's fall harvest. In order to appease the ever angry gods, then Emperor Kinmei ordered that special religious rites take place at Shimogamo and Kamigamo Shrines. According to legend, it worked.

In the year 807, Aoi Matsuri was then annointed as an official imperial event, and, but for a two century interruption beginning with the Onin War, has continued to this day.

The festival consists of the imperial messenger's court and Saio-Dai, a young princess from the imperial family who was the head of the two shrines.

All of the shrines, costumes, and horses taking part are decorated with hollyhock leaves and branches. Because it was originally an imperial festival, ordinary people were not allowed to take part for many years.

The modern festival features several hundred participants dressed in Heian Period costumes. The costumes are reproductions of those worn by officials delivering a message from the Emperor to the two shrines.

Also, characters from the world's first novel, “The Tale of the Genji,” are featured.

The central female figure in the procession is the aforementioned Saio-dai, who is accompanied by servants, aristocrats, carriages, horses, and oxen. The role in this year's Aoi Festival will be played by Kae Morikawa, who will be the 52nd person to play the Saio-Dai. Her mother, Kaoru, played the same role 40 years ago. She is lavishly dressed and carried on a palanquin.

The overall feel of the “festival” is more that of a parade than a get blind drunk type harvest festival. There are archery competitions and other events prior to the procession on the 15th, but it is the costumes the draw the crowds.


Take the Karasuma Subway line to Marutamachi Station. The south gate of the Imperial Palace is a 2-3 minute walk.


The festival begins at 10:30 at the south gate of the Imperial Palace. It moves east on Marutamachi Dori to Kawaramachi Dori, where it will turn north. The procession will cross the Kamo River at Demachi Bashi Bridge at 11:15, arriving at Shimogamo Shrine at 11:40. The participants will exit the shrine at 2:20, walk north to Kitaoji Street and turn left to cross back over the Kamo River, at roughly 2:55. All will arrive at Kamigamo Shrine at 3:30.

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