Gion Matsuri

INTRODUCTION

The Gion Matsuri (祇園祭), or Gion Festival is one of the Three Great Festivals of Kyoto, and one of the most famous ones in Japan. It takes place every year in July, and lasts for the entire month. The main festival days are on July 17 and July 24, where a great parade called the Yamaboko Junko can be observed.

Many main streets of downtown Kyoto are closed for traffic for the three nights leading up to the parade. Many street booth, called roten or demise, occupy those busy streets. Stands selling takoyaki, ice cream, or even stands where you can catch goldfishes are very popular among the crowd.

You can find a day-to-day schedule of the Gion Festival below.

HISTORY

The origin of the Gion Matsuri goes back to the year 869. The Kamogawa-river in Kyoto was struck by violent floods in June, which caused the waters to stagnate during the summer, and lead to an epidemic outbreak. Other disasters also occurred the same year in Japan, such as the massive Jogan Earthquake, creating a tsunami and killing around 1,000 people.

At that time, it was thought that disasters such as earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, and others were caused by curses of the souls of brutal deaths. In order to appease these wrathful souls, Emperor Seiwa ordered to pray to the god of the Yasaka Shrine. Sixty-six halberds, representing each province of ancient Japan, as well as portable shrines called mikoshi were prepared, and erected at Shinsen-en.

This ritual was repeated with each outbreak, until it became an annual event in the year 970. By the years, this event became more and more polished, until the Edo Period, when it became the festival as it is today.

It is now one of the Three Great Festivals in Kyoto, alongside the Aoi Matsuri and the Jidai Matsuri.

Gion Matsuri Schedule

※Please note that the time and dates of certain events may change depending on circumstances such as strong rainfalls or winds.

Kippuiri (吉符入)

Meeting between the participating neighborhoods. This is the opening ceremony of the Gion Matsuri.

  • Date ➔ 1~5 July
  • Time ➔ /
  • Place ➔ Each Yamaboko neighborhood
  • Open to public ➔ No

Naginataboko-cho Osendo (長刀鉾町お千度)

The entire neighborhood of Naginataboko-cho goes to the Yasaka Shrine in order to pray, together with the sacred child or Chigo, as well as the child’s aides called Kamuro.

  • Date ➔ 1 July
  • Time ➔ 10:00~
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ No

Lottery Ceremony (くじ取り式)

The delegates of each neighborhood gather at the city hall of Kyoto. There, a lottery will be carried out to decide the parade order for the floats.

  • Date ➔ 2 July
  • Time ➔ 10:00~
  • Place ➔ Kyoto City Hall
  • Open to public ➔ Only for those who applied and were randomly selected through a lottery system beforehand.

Naginata-hoko Chigo dance: Dance of Tranquility (長刀鉾稚児舞:太平の舞)

Before the actual Dance of Tranquility performed by the sacred child, or Chigo, rites are performed inside the building. This is called Kippuiri and is performed privately at 15:00. Once this is done, at 15:15, the wooden frames open, and the Naginata-hoko Chigo will appear in front of the people waiting outside. The sacred child will perform the Dance of Tranquility, or Taihei no Mai.

  • Date ➔ 5 July
  • Time ➔ 15:15~
  • Place ➔ Naginata-hoko Hozonkai
  • Open to public ➔ Yes (see above)

Ayagasa-hoko (綾傘鉾稚児社参)

The sacred child or Chigo of Ayagasa-hoko goes to worship at the Yasaka Shrine with the neighborhood’s board members.

  • Date ➔ 7 July
  • Time ➔ Around 14:30
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Former Festival: Building up the floats (前祭 山鉾建)

Each Yamaboko neighborhood starts to assemble their own floats for the festival. The assembly of the hoko floats will be from 10~11 July, and from 12~14 July for the yama floats.

  • Date ➔ 10~14 July
  • Time ➔ /
  • Place ➔ Each Yamaboko neighborhood
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Shinyo Suikioharai-shiki (神用水清祓式)

The water that is to be used for the Mikoshi Arai-shiki on 10 July is draw from the Kamogawa river.

  • Date ➔ 10 July
  • Time ➔ 10:00~
  • Place ➔ Shijo Ohashi (Shijo Bridge)
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Welcoming Lantern Parade (お迎え提灯)

The Lantern Parade, or Omukae Chochin, is a parade to welcome the portable shrines called mikoshi. Participants walk in a line formation of one or two, with their respective lamps. Many children take part in this parade.

  • Date ➔ 10 July
  • Time ➔ 16:30~19:30
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine ⇒ Kawaramachi Shijo ⇒ Kyoto City Hall ⇒ Teramachi Street ⇒ Higashi Oji Street ⇒ Shinko Michi ⇒ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Mikoshi Arai-Shiki (神輿洗式)

This is a purifying ceremony. The three Mikoshi, or divine palanquin, are transported from the Yasaka Shrine to the Kamogawa river to cleanse it, and then transported back to the Yasaka Shrine.

  • Date ➔ 10 July
  • Time ➔ 18:00~20:30
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine ⇒ Shijo Ohashi (Shijo Bridge) ⇒ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Former festival: Hoko Hikihajime (前祭 鉾曳き初め)

During this former festival, each neighborhood pulls their respective Hoko as a try to make sure everything works well.

  • Date ➔ 12~13 July
  • Time ➔ /
  • Place ➔ Each Hoko neighborhood
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Naginata-hoko Chigo Shasan (長刀鉾稚児社参)

The sacred child, or Chigo, of Naginata-Hoko will do a pilgrimage at the Yasaka Shrine on horse-back. This sacred child will be sitting on front of the Naginata-hoko float and perform the Dance of Tranquility, or Taihei no Mai.

  • Date ➔ 13 July
  • Time ➔ 11:00~
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ No

Kuze Komagata Chigo Shasan (久世駒形稚児社参)

The two children who play the Kuze Komagata Chigo are the messengers of the Yasaka Shrine’s deity. They will ride on horse-back in the precincts of the Yasaka shrine.

  • Date ➔ 13 July
  • Time ➔ 14:30~
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ No

Former Festival: Byobu Matsuri(前祭 屏風祭)

The Folding Screen Festival, or Byobu Matsuri takes place in various Yamaboko neighborhoods. Some ancient houses of each Yamaboko neighborhood will take off the latticework in front of their house and display their beautifully decorated folding screens, as well as some other ancient objects. It is possible to see most of these places from the street. However, some places are admission-paid.

  • Date ➔ 14~16 July
  • Time ➔ /
  • Place ➔ Each Yamaboko neighborhood
  • Open to public ➔ Yes (some location are admission-paid)

Former Festival: Yoiyama (前祭 宵山)

This festival’s name changes depending on the day:

●14 July: Yoiyoiyoiyama (宵々々山)
●15 July: Yoiyoiyama (宵々山)
●16 July: Yoiyama (宵山)

The paper lanterns on each Yamaboko are lit up in the evening and traditional music is played throughout the day. It is also possible to enter inside these floats. Some floats, however, are given entry to men only.

  • Date ➔ 14~16 July
  • Time ➔ /
  • Place ➔ Each Yamaboko neighborhood
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Ikebana Exhibition (いけばな展)

Various shops in the shopping district, starting at Karasuma Shijo street up to the shopping districts of Gion will display Ikebana in their stores. The entire street will become an exhibition for Ikebana.

  • Date ➔ 15~17 July
  • Time ➔ Between opening and closing time of the stores. This will be 10:00~20:00 for most stores
  • Place ➔ Shijo Karasuma Street ~ Yasaka Shrine (Gion)
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Traditional Art Performances (伝統芸能奉納)

On that day there will be various traditional Japanese art performances at the Yasaka Shrine, such as Heian Period dances and music, noh-play (kyogen),  folk songs and dances, and poems recitation. Songs will be played with traditional Japanese music instruments such as the single-string Japanese zither (ichigenkin), Japanese lute (biwa), koto, and the bamboo flute (shakuhachi).

  • Date ➔ 15 July
  • Time ➔ 15:00~
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Former Parade Of Yamaboko Floats (前祭 山鉾巡行)​

23 Yamaboko will be pulled through the streets of central Kyoto, making for a stunning spectacle.

  • Date ➔ 17 July
  • Time ➔ 9:00~
  • Place ➔ Shijo Karasuma ⇒ Shijo Kawaramachi ⇒ Kawaramachi Oike (turning before the Kyoto City Hall) ⇒ Karasuma Oike ⇒ Shinmachi Oike
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Shinko-sai (神幸祭)

The three Mikoshi, or portable shrines, will be lifted and transported through several places. They will all depart from thethe bottom of the Yasaka Shrine, and end up in Shijo Otabisho. The three Mikoshi will arrive there between 21:00 and 22:00.

The Mikoshi will stay there until the 24th, where they will be lifted up and lead through the streets of Kyoto to finally go back to the Yasaka Shrine. See the KANKO-SAI below for more information.

Note that the entirety of the festival is open to public. However, you are only allowed to watch the festival from the sidewalk. Please refrain from going on the road.

  • Date ➔ 17 July
  • Time ➔ 16:00~
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine ⇒ Shijo Otabisho
  • Open to public ➔ Yes* (see above)

Latter Festival: Yoiyama (後祭 宵山)

This festival’s name changes depending on the day:

●21 July: Yoiyoiyoiyama (宵々々山)
●22 July: Yoiyoiyama (宵々山)
●23 July: Yoiyama (宵山)

The paper lanterns on each Yamaboko are lit up in the evening and traditional music is played throughout the day. It is also possible to enter inside these floats. Some floats, however, are given entry to men only.

  • Date ➔ 21~23 July
  • Time ➔ 18:00~23:00
  • Place ➔ Each Yamaboko neighborhood
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Sencha Kencha-sai (煎茶献茶祭)

There will be a ceremony involving offering sencha to the deities.

  • Date ➔ 23 July
  • Time ➔ 9:00~
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ No

Biwa Hono (琵琶奉納)

A Biwa (Japanese lute) performance by the Biwa Association will take place.

  • Date ➔ 23 July
  • Time ➔ 13:00~
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Latter parade of Yamaboko Floats (後祭 山鉾巡行)

The Latter Parade of Yamaboko Floats, or Atomatsuri Yamaboko Junko, is a parade where 10 Yamaboko will be pulled, with the Hashibenkei-yama in front. The famous Ofune-hoko , a float in the form of a boat that has been restored in 2014 after 150 years of absence will also be pulled. The Latter Parade or Ato-matsuri has also been restored in 2014 after more than half a century of absence.

  • Date ➔ 24 July
  • Time ➔ 9:30~
  • Place ➔ Karasuma Oike ⇒ Kawaramachi Oike ⇒ Shijo Kawaramachi ⇒ Shijo Karasuma
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Flower Parasols Parade (花傘巡行)

The Flower Parasols Parade, or Hanagasa Junko, is a parade where small floats will be pulled from Ishidan Shita to the Yasaka Shrine. Traditional dances (buyo) will be performed at the Yasaka Shrine at the end of the parade.

  • Date ➔ 24 July
  • Time ➔ 10:00~12:00
  • Place ➔ Ishidan Shita ⇒ Shijo Teramachi ⇒ Teramachi Oike ⇒ Kawaramachi Oike ⇒ Shijo Kawaramachi ⇒ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Kanko-sai (還幸祭)

The three Mikoshi, or portable shrines, will be lifted from Shijo Otabashi and transported through several places before ending up in the Yasaka Shrine. 

Note that the entirety of the festival is open to public. However, you are only allowed to watch the festival from the sidewalk. Please refrain from going on the road.

  • Date ➔ 24 July
  • Time ➔ 17:00~23:30
  • Place ➔ Shijo Otabisho ⇒ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ Yes* (see above)

Kyogen Hono (狂言奉納)

The famous Kyogen performer (type of Noh theater) Shigeyama Chuzaburo will be performing his art at the Yasaka Shrine.

  • Date ➔ 24 July
  • Time ➔ 11:00~
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Shinyo Suikioharai-shiki (神用水清祓式)

The water that is to be used for the Mikoshi Arai-shiki on 28 July is draw from the Kamogawa river.

  • Date ➔ 28 July
  • Time ➔ 10:00~
  • Place ➔ Shijo Ohashi (Shijo Bridge)
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Mikoshi Arai-Shiki (神輿洗式)

This is the last purifying ceremony. The three Mikoshi, or divine palanquin, are transported from the Yasaka Shrine to the Kamogawa river to cleanse it, and then transported back to the Yasaka Shrine. There it will be put in a storehouse dedicated for the Mikoshi until the next Gion Matsuri.

  • Date ➔ 28 July
  • Time ➔ 18:00~20:00
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine ⇒ Shijo Ohashi (Shijo Bridge) ⇒ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ Yes

Shijisumi Hokoku-sai(神事済奉告祭)

Reporting the end of the Gion Festival, and showing gratitude towards the deities.

  • Date ➔ 29 July
  • Time ➔ 16:00~
  • Place ➔ Yasaka Shrine
  • Open to public ➔ No

Eki Shrine Nagoshi-sai (疫神社夏越祭)

Closing service of the Gion festival at the Eki Shrine, located within the Yasaka Shrine.

  • Date ➔ 31 July
  • Time ➔ 10:00~
  • Place ➔ Eki Shrine (Located within the Yasaka Shrine)
  • Open to public ➔ Yes