Regarded as one of Kyoto's top annual festivals, Aoi Matsuri is a unique event you shouldn't miss if you're in Kyoto during May.
- When? 15th May 2018
- Where? Various locations across Kyoto
- Price: Free
If you're looking for a leafy-looking outfit for your next party, the Aoi Matsuri may provide some inspiration. This annual celebration is named after the Hollyhock leaves that participants wear during the event's huge procession.
It may not sound that interesting but this is actually one of Japan's most significant annual events. Aoi means 'Hollyhock' in Japanese and the large parade that takes place on May 15th features more than 500 people dressed in Japanese court costumes and Hollyhock leaves. Their outfits are inspired by the Heian period between the 9th and 12th centuries, although the festival actually dates back to the 7th century.
Join the locals to watch the elaborate parade and expect to see men on horseback, beautifully decorated ox-drawn carts and an array of costumes and decorations. Ceremonies also take place at Shimogano Shrine in the middle of the procession, so be sure to drop in here at some point.
One of the highlights of the parade is the Saio-Dai (festival queen). Traditionally a young member of the imperial family, the Saio-Dai performs rituals at the shrines alongside the imperial messenger. Nowadays this tradition still occurs, but the Saio-Dai chosen to serve is an unmarried woman from Kyoto, who has to go through purification ceremonies before the festival.
Don't go leafing your camera behind; it's not everyday you see costumes like this.
- Get there: Fly to Osaka International Airport and then drive or take a taxi to Kyoto.
- Stay: Base yourself in one of the Shimogano neighbourhoods to the north of the city to be nearby for the ceremonies at Shimogano Shrine.
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