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.
The 2023 Gion Festival Yamahoko parade (pre-festival) is scheduled to start on Shijo Karasuma street on July 17, 2023 (Monday) at 9:00 A.M., but please check for cancellation or changes due COVID-19.
Every year, paid seating is made available on Oike dori street, on the second half of the route, so sitting down to watch is an option.
KYOTO GION FESTIVAL 2023
Gion Matsuri, one of Japan’s top three festivals, takes place over the course of one month, starting with “Kippuiri” (Good Fortune Opening Ceremony) on July 1, and ending with “Ekijinja Natsukoshi-matsuri” (Summer Purification Ceremony at Eki Shrine) on July 31.
On Yoiyama, the night before the main procession , Komagata lanterns are lit Gion Bayashi music is played by musicians on the Yamahoko floats.
The Yamahoko floats parade around the town (pre-festival, after-festival)
The photograph is of the “Chigo.” Gion Festival “Chigo” are children who play an important role in the festival floats (Naginata floats, Kuze Komagata floats and Ayagasa floats)
The Naginata Chigo are considered messengers of the gods. During the Yamahoko parade (pre-festival) they ride the Naginata floats and perform the Shimenawa (sacred rope)cutting ritual and the “Taihei no mai” (dance) ritual. The Kuze Komagata Chigo is said to be the incarnation of the god. In the Shinko-sai and Kanko-sai processions, the Kuze Komagata Chigo rides a horse at the front of the Naka-Migashira Mikoshi procession.
The Yamahoko floats parade (pre-festival) happens on July 17, prior to the Mikoshi Togyo: and Shinko-sai processions.
The Yamahoko floats parade route starts on Shijo Karasuma street and proceeds in order to Shijo-dori street, Kawaramachi-dori street and Oike-dori street.
Along the route, the rope-cutting ritual is performed at Shijo Fuyacho, the Kuji-Aratame (lottery ritual) is performed at Shijo Sakai, and Tsujimawashi, the ritual, involving the rotation of the Yamahoko floats, is performed at the intersection of Shijo Kawaramachi and Kawaramachi Oike.