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Gion Matsuri: A Quick Guide to Kyoto’s Festive Summer Spectacle
Gion Matsuri: A Quick Guide to Kyoto’s Festive Summer Spectacle
July 5, 2023

As summer unfurls its vibrant tapestry, embracing the warm embrace of July, a majestic spectacle emerges in the ancient city of Kyoto. Behold the grandeur of the Gion Matsuri, an illustrious celebration renowned throughout Japan. Should you seek enchantment in your Kyoto sojourn this season, look no further than the resplendent Gion Matsuri, an unparalleled gem among the myriad wonders this city holds.

Beyond this beguiling festival, you can uncover the culinary treasures that lie scattered across Kyoto. Indulge your senses in the divine gastronomic offerings this city graciously bestows upon its fortunate visitors. As summer unfolds in the ethereal neighbourhood of Gion, here’s a quick guide on Kyoto’s renowned annual celebration, filled with vibrant traditions and captivating events.

Immerse Yourself in Kyoto’s Most Magnificent Festival of the Season

Gion Matsuri originated in 869 as a festival to combat a devastating plague in Kyoto, with the people erecting spears and carrying a portable shrine to appease vengeful spirits. Despite interruptions from wars and political reasons, Kyoto has maintained and supported the festival throughout history.

As the major festival of the Yasaka Shrine, it is the largest festival in Kyoto that is celebrated throughout July. During Gion Matsuri, the city of Kyoto undergoes a transformative evolution. The streets come alive with a vibrant energy as the festival takes hold, weaving its way through the ancient capital.

The highlight of this summer festival is the Yamaboko-Junko, or grand procession on the 17th. The procession uses two types of floats: the Yama and Hoko. There are 23 Hoko floats in particular that stand out. Not only are they impressive in their enormity, which are about twenty-five metres tall and weigh up to twelve tons,  but each one is also intricately decorated and built from scratch every year. After a hiatus of about 48 years, a second, smaller procession of floats on July 24 was reestablished in 2014, featuring the remaining ten floats. 

A week before preceding each procession, the floats are displayed within a half kilometre of the intersection of Karasuma and Shijo streets, which tourists can admire up close and even enter. The evenings, known as Yoiyama, are the most exciting as the roads are pedestrianised, and the area is filled with food stands, drink vendors and other festival activities. 

The Mikoshi-Togyo, or procession of portable shrines, happens on the night of July 17 and 24. On the night of July 17, three mikoshi (portable shrines) carrying the deities of Yasaka Shrine are taken to Otabisho in downtown Kyoto where they rest for a week before returning to Yasaka Shrine on the night of the 24th. 

Aside from the Yamaboko-Junko or float processions, there are several other activities that you can witness during the month-long festival.  A week before the floats are displayed on the streets, tourists and locals alike can watch as the floats are assembled without using any nails. Residents open their doors to exhibit family heirlooms to passersby a few days before each procession. 

The Gion Matsuri originated when pestilence had spread across Kyoto and caused suffering to all. The Yamaboko-Junko was initially held to appease evil deities who caused epidemics and suffering. Yama and Hoko play the role of purifying the streets during the grand procession. To this day, the people of Kyoto carry on this tradition, even in the face of interruptions like wars or political upheavals. 

If you’re in Kyoto this July, the Gion Matsuri is a festival that you shouldn’t miss during your trip. From lively and culturally enriching parades to street festivities and local traditions, there’s no better festival where you can experience Japan’s rich culture and learn about its history than the Gion Festival.

Embark on a Sensory Odyssey to Kyoto’s Nishiki Market

If you’re looking for a place to explore the flavours of Kyoto, look no further than Nishiki Market – a six-block-long retail market specialising in all things food related. Also known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, this marketplace has over 130 stalls featuring many of Kyoto’s culinary delights. From seasonal ingredients to fresh produce and seafood to local delicacies and even cookware and souvenirs, you can find it all at Nishiki Market. 

The market is an epicurean haven to sample Kyoto’s local specialities and traditional snacks. Some must-try items include tsukemono (pickled vegetables), yuba (tofu skin), Kyoto-style sushi, matcha (green tea) treats, senbei (rice crackers), and wagashi (Japanese confectionery).

Bustling with life, Nishiki Market is an institution in Kyoto with a rich history spanning around 400 years. Many shops followed suit, and until today are operated by the same families for generations. This is definitely a one-stop shop for all things food related. Explore a diverse range of delicacies and Japanese food right at the heart of Kyoto, in Nishiki Market. 

Quaint Hotels in Kyoto: Accommodations for Your Summer Stay

To experience the full splendour of the Gion Matsuri in close proximity, the Miru Collection Hotels are the perfect choice for convenient stays nearby. Despite the main festival being held from the 15th to the 17th of July, the festive ambiance extends its welcoming embrace across the entire month, enticing you to revel in the joyous atmosphere.

Nestled at the very heart of Kyoto, Miru Kyoto Nishiki stands as a strategic retreat, positioned near the captivating Hokos that grace the streets during the festival’s duration. Our boutique hotel in Kyoto serves as an optimal abode during this vibrant period, ensuring a memorable stay. Moreover, it boasts a mere 150 metres’ distance from Nishiki Market, the go-to marketplace that crowns Kyoto’s renowned culinary scene.

For those with a taste for opulence, yet a strong desire to remain within the embrace of the festival, our newest addition, Miru Kyoto Gion, presents an enticing option. Positioned in close proximity to the venerable Yasaka Shrine, this luxurious accommodation allows for seamless participation and firsthand observation of the grand procession. As the Gion Matsuri unfurls its splendour, the festival’s spirit finds its genesis within the sacred grounds of Yasaka Shrine, rendering it an irresistible spectacle to behold. You can easily partake in and witness the grand procession, as the Gion Matsuri is a celebration deeply intertwined with the Yasaka Shrine, where the Mikoshi-Togyo both begins and ends its journey.

Amidst the plethora of summer festivities unfolding throughout the month of July, it is imperative to craft your Kyoto itinerary in advance, ensuring an optimal experience that allows you to fully immerse yourself in the joyous celebrations of the season.