Aoi Matsuri (葵祭) is one of the three most famous and graceful festivals in Kyoto, held by two Kamo shrines in the north of city- Shimogamo Shrine and Kamogamo Shrine. This festival is held each year on 15th of May. There are about 500 people dressed in elegant ancient costumes wearing traditional make-up. This festival is called Aoi Matsuri because aoi(hollyhock) leaves are used as ornaments not only for people’s costumes, but also for horses and cows that following the parade.
The festival was first held in the 7th century after the Emperor sent his messenger with a retinue to a shrine to made offerings to the gods. As soon as they did it, the disastrous rains and winds emerged and ruined the grain crops. Thus a tradition has begun.
The festival starts from the southern gate of Kyoto Imperial Palace at 10:30 on May 15, the procession is led by the Imperial Messenger. Following the Imperial Messenger, there are two oxcarts, four cows, thirty-six horses, and over 500 people dressed in Heian period clothes with aoi leaves worn by all of the participants. They slowly walk toward the Shimogamo shrine and finally the Kamogamo shrine.
Originally there are two main figures in this event, the Saio-Dai is a woman that is chosen from the sisters and daughters of the Emperor and who dedicated herself to the Shimogame shrine, and the Imperial Messenger who leads the festival procession on horseback. Today, Saio-Dai is played by and unmarried woman of Kyoto to maintain ritual’s purity and to represent the Emperor at the festival. The Saio-Dai is dressed in Heian clothes and twelve layers of junihitoe (traditional style robes, the weight is up to 30kg). Before the procession begins, the Saio-Dai has to perform several ceremonies of purification.
At the each shrine, the Saio-Dai and Imperial Messenger perform their rituals in which the Saio-Dai pays her respect to the deities and Imperial Messenger intones the imperial rescript praising the deities.
The regular schedule of Aoi Matsuri from the Imperial Palace to the Kamigamo shrine.
Kyoto Imperial Palace leaving 10:30
Shimogamo shrine arrival 11:40
Shimogamo shrine leaving 14:20
Kamigamo shrine arrival 15:30