It is May in Kyoto and the cherry blossoms of April have scattered, making way for fresh green leaves to blanket the surrounding mountains and hills. The lush greenery throughout the city provides a fitting backdrop for Matsuri, or Hollyhock festival, which takes place this month. Aoi is Japanese for Hollyhock, and the dark green leaf features significantly in the celebrations.
Aoi Matsuri is one of the three major festivals in Kyoto and is an important annual festival of both Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine, since the 9th century.
The festival culminates on the 15th of May each year with a parade of more than 500 people, horses, oxen and carriages, all resplendent in costumes oh the Heian era (794-1185). The procession begins at the Imperial Palace Grounds at 10:30, and marches (very) slowly north along Marutamachi Avenue, passing through the Tadasu-no-mori forests at Shimogamo jinjya Shrine at 13:30, before finishing up at Kamigamo jinjya Shrine at around 15:30. Although the parade provides a wonderful view of Japan’s history, the trick is actually getting a decent view of the parade itself!
Hundreds of people will be lining the streets along the route, and the few reserved seats sell out fast. One of the best ways to beat the crowds is to head to the Imperial Palace Grounds nice and early on the 15th, and wander freely amongst the costumed participants as they prepare for the parade. By doing this you will be able to get a much closer look at the exquisite detail of their costumes against the fresh greenery of Kyoto in May.
Text by Steve Cooke
- May 1st ~ 15th
- Kyoto Imperial Park
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