The Gion Festival, locally known as Gion Matsuri, is one of the most important festivals in Kyoto. With a history of more than 650 years, this festival originated as a part of the purification ritual to appease the god that caused plagues, earthquakes, etc.
Today, the Gion Festival continues to be held annually throughout the month of July, with the main procession happening every July 17th. Here are some tips and suggestions on how to spend the day!
Some people purchase tickets for seats, while others choose to stand at the sides of the procession route for free. Here are some pros and cons of the two:
If you do not plan on spending for a paid seat, then here is what you should do:
- If you want to stand near the intersections to view the Tsujimawashi (turning of floats), arrive early – because by 8:00 AM, you wouldn’t be able to stand in front anymore.
- There are about three intersections which means that one float will have to turn three times, so you can choose any of the three.
- If you do not wish to watch the Tsujimawashi, you can arrive from 8:00 to 8:30 AM and still get to stand in the front row.
- If you wish to see the procession only to leave halfway through, expect to pass through crowded areas along the route.
- Expect some leg pain and sun. It is advisable to bring along a portable fan, hat, and a piece of cardboard (if you do not want to dirty your pants by sitting on the pavement).
- There is an unwritten rule where you can sit provided that you are at the frontmost of the crowd (many elderlies do this).
- Stay hydrated as it is midsummer.
- Follow the instructions and respect others.
The procession starts with the first float departing at around 9:00 AM and reaching the last intersection at around 11:00 AM. The whole procession ends at around 1:00 or 2:00 PM, depending on where you witness the last float.
There are many places where you can have your lunch. However, I would suggest that you plan your itinerary accordingly as your last stop should be Yasaka Shrine, clocked at 6:00 PM for the Shinko-sai (Mikoshi Procession).
I also recommend stopping by Gion Tsujiri and trying their famous matcha desserts but do expect a long queue.
While waiting for the Shinko-sai, you can kill time by visiting Yasaka Shrine. Close to the shrine is Maruyama Park, which is also perfect for strolling. If you are too tired to walk, why not rest at the riverbank of Kamogawa and watch some ducks swim?
Another place not to be missed is the Japan Kanji Museum & Library where there will be digital folded screens showing explanations on the floats and videos of the previous Gion Matsuri, accompanied by interesting illustrations and music!
This event is also known as the Mikoshi Procession wherein three portable shrines are carried back to Yasaka Shrine. If you want to secure the best spot at the shrine, you might want to start waiting as early as 4:00 PM!
The procession starts from inside of the shrine where they perform rituals before heading to the front of the shrine where a few more rituals are performed. The three portable shrines then proceed to their different routes which extends all the way to Matsubara Street and Kyoto City Hall.
If you are interested, you can watch the 2017 Shinko-sai here:
Festivals in Japan tend to be packed with Japanese and foreign visitors alike. But as long as you abide by the rules, you can enjoy this centuries-old festival despite the summer heat and crowd.
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