Kyoto Gion Festival (Gion Matsuri)

Kyoto has celebrated the Gion Festival (Gion Matsuri) every July for centuries. The Gion Matsuri used to be part of a purification ritual to appease the gods who cause fire, natural disasters and diseases.

During July there are events all month long, celebrations involve lots of delicious food and people in traditional dresses can be seen everywhere on the streets of Kyoto. In the evenings leading up to July 17th some roads are specially blocked for food markets.

When :

The big parade is every year July 17th
• events are held in the days leading up to the big parade

Where :

Kyoto city center

Gion Matsuri Route Map


Float inspection :

The nights before the parade the streets in the Gion district are blocked for cars. People dress in their traditional kimono's and there is a large open air market with lots of food and games.

Gion Matsuri street market
Gion Matsuri street market

The real purpose of this evening is to view the Hoko and Yama that are parked in the streets of their builders. You can buy a ticket to go inside the Hoko yourself. There are also traditional houses in the streets that open their doors and put their prescious art on display, painted screens for example.

Gion Matsuri parade :

The Gion Matsuri is a free public event and July 17th is the highlight that is celebrated with a large parade of floats. The large floats are called Hoko and the smaller versions Yama and are build by the merchant groups of the Gion district in Kyoto.

The wooden frame of the floats are rebuild every year and decorated in the style that a particular district already uses for centuries. Inside the large Hoko sit the musicians that ring bells and play the flute.

Young men pull the Hoko floats trough Kyoto´s streets. The Hoko Floats are not able to steer so they are pulled at corners. A bed of bamboos is spread out on the road with plenty of water so the friction is eased.

Gion Matsuri Route Map

Chigo Boy:

On the first float is the "Chigo" seated, a young boy in Shinto robes and crowned with a golden phoenix, the boy is chosen among the Kyoto merchant families as the deity´s sacred page. He is carried atop the float as he is not permitted to touch the ground. During this month he will undergo purification rituals. At the start of the parade he will cut a rope that hangs over the road with a samurai sword, the procession starts.

How to visit:

Visiting is free you can just watch the parade from the streetside. Activities are taking place all of July with the 17th being the highlight.

If you want to see the parade up close I recommend taking position at one of the intersections. Here the floats have to turn and that is the most spectacular part of the procession.

This is the exact location I shot these pictures 35° 0'14.12"N 135° 46'10.28"E the Kawaramachi-dori and Shijo-dori intersection. The parade starts at 9.00 in the morning and passes this spot half an hour later.

I arrived at 6 in the morning and I was certainly not the first person to set up camp. It is a favorite spot with photographers and press. Six in the morning should be early enough to occupy a good spot. It gets really crowded after that.

Kyoto Gion Matsuri gallery

Japan has a lot of traditional festivals and events called Matsuri. Marsuri are mostly very colourfull and refer mostly to local historie and events. Matsuri are often blessed by Shinto rituals.

Kyoto is host to a whole range of Matsuri that are in some cases aimed at tourism.

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