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Kyoto's Aoi Matsuri Festival: Access And Schedule
Aoi Matsuri is one of Kyoto's three largest festivals and has been around since the Heian period. Find out the best ways to go and see the majestic procession of 500 people in historical costumes.
What Is the Aoi Matsuri?
Aoi Matsuri, or the Hollyhock Festival, is an annual festival held on May 15th between Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine in the city of Kyoto. It is one of the three major festivals of Kyoto along with the Gion Festival in July and the Jidai Matsuri held in October.
The main highlight of Aoi Matsuri is the Roto no Gi. It is a major procession consisting of over 500 people dressed in royal costumes dating back to the Heian period (794 - 1185) who parade around the streets of Kyoto. This festival got its name from the futaba aoi (*1) leaf that is the symbol of the two shrines. In this festival, the people attending the procession, their belongings, and even the animals are adorned with the futaba aoi leaves. Unlike standard Japanese festivals, there are no yatai (*2) performances included.
In the procession, you will find a troupe of musicians performing with instruments from the Heian era along with large carriages called gosho guruma parading throughout the town and bringing back the Heian period atmosphere to the modern times. In this article, we have gathered information regarding the dates, access, and highlights of this traditional festival that revives the historical royal lifestyle of Japan.
*1 futaba aoi (hollyhock): A perennial plant that grows in the mountains of Japan. The leaves are in a shape of a heart and are used as a symbolic emblem of Shimogamo shrine and Kamigamo shrine.
*2 yatai: A massive carriage used in Japanese festivals that are commonly operated by men. The name varies according to areas and is called hikiyama, dashi or danjiri.
Dates of the Aoi Matsuri
The Aoi Matsuri takes place on May 15, at 10:30 - 15:30. It takes place on the same date every year.
Getting to the Aoi Matsuri from Kyoto Station
The main highlight of the Aoi Matsuri is the grand parade that extends for about 8 km from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the Shimogamo Shrine and the Kamigamo Shrine. Here, we would like to introduce how to get to the main points of the festival at Kyoto Imperial Palace, Shimogamo Shrine, and Kamigamo Shrine.
For more details on getting to Kyoto from Tokyo, take a look at: Tokyo To Kyoto: Should You Go Via Shinkansen Or Night Bus?
Kyoto Imperial Palace
The procession begins around 10:30 from the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The best way to get there will be by train from Kyoto Station.
Get on the Kyoto City Karasuma Line bound for the Kokusai Kaikan from Kyoto Station and get off at Imadegawa Station. It takes around 10 minutes and costs 260 yen. The Kyoto Imperial Palace is about a 5-minute walk from Imadegawa Station.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Address: Kyoto, Kyoto, Kamigyo ward, Kyoto Gyoen 3
The procession reaches Shimogamo Shrine at around 11:40. Using the bus to get to Shimogamo Shrine from Kyoto Station is the most convenient way. However, there is a chance you may be caught in traffic, so it is recommended to take an earlier bus to be on time.
Get on the city bus bound for Kawaharacho-dori Shijo Kawaharacho - Kita Omiya Bus Terminal from bus stop A2 in front of Kyoto Station. Get off at Shimogamo Jinjamae. It takes around 30 minutes and costs 230 yen.
If you are using the train, get on the JR Nara line from Kyoto Station and head toward Tofukuji Station. Transfer to the Keihan line bound for Demachi Yanagi Station and get off at Demachi Yanagi Sation. Walk about 15 minutes until you reach Shimogamo Shrine.
Address: Kyoto, Sakyo ward, Shimogamo Izumigawa-cho 59
The last point of the procession is Kamigamo Shrine which is best reached by bus. The procession reaches the shrine around 15:30.
From the B1 bus stop in front of the Kyoto Station, get on the bus bound for Nishi Honganji - Nijo-jo, Kamigamo Jinja and get off at Kamigamo Jinja stop. It costs 230 yen one way.
If you are traveling by train, the closest station is Kitayama Station, but you would need to walk for approximately 25 minutes. Therefore, it is best to go there by bus.
Address: Kyoto, Kita ward, Kamigamo Honzan 339
Highlights of Aoi Matsuri
The Roto no Gi grand parade of Aoi Matsuri is separated into two major groups. There is the Honretsu, featuring a person acting as the representative of the emperor called the chokushi, and the Saio Dairetsu, featuring a person acting as the lady of the royal family, otherwise known as the Saio.
The main feature of the festival is the chokushi. The point of the Roto no Gi procession represents the chokushi delivering the words of the emperor from Shimogamo Shrine to Kamigamo Shrine. In the Honretsu, you will find mostly men dressed as the chokushi on the horse along with police officers and government officials. They make their way down the streets in a stern atmosphere.
*This photo does not depict the chokushi.
Unlike the Honretsu, the Saio Dairetsu is mostly composed of women and has a very festive feel to the procession. The Saio refers to an unmarried lady of the royal family that serves Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine. The lady dressed as the Saio wears the traditional formal wear, the junihitoe kimono and makes her way down with miko priestesses that serve the Saio. The gorgeous costumes the women wear are a sight not to be missed.
Spots to See the Aoi Matsuri
Kyoto Imperial Palace
The best place to watch the parade would be at the Kyoto Imperial Palace. You would be able to see the procession against buildings from the Heian era along with the mountains of Kyoto.
Shimogamo Shrine's Tadasu no Mori
The Tadasu no Mori is a forest within the grounds of Shimogamo Shrine. From this spot, you won't see skyscrapers in the background and you'll be able to take scenic photos more authentic to the Heian period.
The Kamo Kaido is a street that runs on the right-hand side of the Kamo river. This is one of the few areas that is less crowded and you would be able to see the procession among the trees.
Why not immerse yourself in the wonders of the imperial court of the Heian period along with the culture of Kyoto through the Aoi Matsuri?
** Travel times and expenses are based on publicly available information and are current as of March 2017. They may be subject to change.
Previous experience as an editor at a women's media company in Japan. I lived in Australia for a while and joined MATCHA after returning to Japan. In charge of editing, promoting sponsored content, and creative direction. I love watching Western TV series.