Gion Festival: Decadent and flamboyant, one of Japan’s top three festivals

Yasaka Jinja (Shrine) is located in the Gion district of Kyoto. In July, Kyoto is filled with the sound of music coming from the floats that are elaborately and decadently decorated. Multiple festivals take place in Kyoto for the entire month of July.

The origin dates back 1100 years ago to the Heian Era. It began when 66 sword tips were forged and dedicated to the Gion Shrine (the current Yasaka Shrine) in order to ward off an epidemic. The depth of its history, and the fact it is a month-long festival means this is one of the three main festivals in Japan, along with the Tenjin Festival in Osaka, and the Kanda Festival in Tokyo.

The highlight is the float that is drawn around the streets on July 17th and July 24th. The float itself is as high as a six-story building. The turns it makes at two corners, Kawara-cho Goike, and Kawara-cho Yojo is worth making a special trip. On the 17th, there are 23 floats, and on the 24th there are ten floats, one more elegant than the other.

On both days, there are paid seats available through the Kyoto Tourism Association for 3180 yen per seat. Seats are available from Teramachi-dori through Shinmachi-dori, or near the Kawara-cho-dori areas.

A festival also worth seeing is Yoiyama which takes place from July 14th through the 16th. Floats can be seen on the roads leading north and south near the Yojo-dori where the street itself is opened up to pedestrians. Pay special attention to these floats as they’re referred to as moving museums. Lit inside at night, they’re a sight to see. Perhaps this is the peak of the Gion Festival overall with outdoor stalls selling food. Definitely not to be missed.

Adding further intrigue and interest, during the Yoiyama, at the old home in Yamahoka opens up its inner sanctuary and shows secretly kept paintings and artwork. Yet another festival, a sort of “after party” of Yoiyama takes place on the 21st through the 23rd

Lastly, from July 10th through the 14th, and the 18th through the 21st, you can see the Yamatate/Hokotate events ropes are made without using any nails. Here again is a must-see. On the 24th there is the Kanko Festival. Here, floats make their way to the holy rest spots at Yasaka Shrine and Yojodera-cho. (Holy rest spots are where the gods rest during their pilgrimages.)

Kyoto in July cannot be missed.


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