The Gion Matsuri is Japan’s most famous annual festival, which takes place on the entire month of July. The festival is made up of several different exciting events, but you shouldn’t miss the highlight which is the grand procession of floats, known as the Yamaboko Junko, held on July 17.
One of the things so spectacular about the Gion Matsuri is the sheer enormity of the floats! There are two main types of floats you’ll see here: 23 of the yama, and 10 of the hook. The hoko can go as high as 25 meters and weigh a crazy 12 tons! In fact, some of the floats are so big that tourists can even enter them! How’s that for Instagrammable?
But what exactly are the Japanese celebrating? The Gion Matsuri is actually the continuation of an ancient tradition dating back to 869, when the locals engaged in religious ceremonies to pray to the gods to stop an epidemic. The festival continues today with the ritual of choosing a local boy who will act as a divine messenger, and the chosen one can’t walk on the ground from July 13 until he has finished parading through town on July 17.
‘If there’s anyone who knows how to celebrate, it’s the Japanese! The Gion Matsuri is Japan’s answer to the western street parties, and boy do they do it well.’
Cue “Turning Japanese” as you rub elbows with the locals in streets that have been closed off to traffic, which light up with dozens of drink and food vendors as well as tons of exciting attractions. Have your fill of yakitori and beer; better yet, why not wear a vibrant yukata robe like the locals do? Music, lanterns, and lights fill the streets with a fantastical atmosphere. Over a million visitors travel to Kyoto each year to witness this incredible festival, which is considered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The Gion Matsuri takes place on various streets of Kyoto through different dates during the month-long festival. The main event, the Yamaboko Junko which is held on July 17 and 24, follows a 3 kilometer route passing Shijo, Kawaramachi, and Oike streets.
On the 17th they take the Shijo-Karusama route and on the 25th it takes the Karasuma-Oike route. For the best views, book a seat across the seating hall but advance bookings are required. The nearby buildings along these streets also provide good viewpoints from the top.
From July 10 to 14, tourists can watch the locals as they work on the floats by hand and from scratch, which is equally impressive! For a truly authentic Japanese experience, don’t miss out on the Byobu Matsuri, which is the same days as the Yoiyama, wherein locals open their doors showcasing stunning family heirlooms to visitors.
The mikoshi procession starts at 6PM on July 17, and begins at the Yasaka Shrine and culminates at Otabisho. This is one of the most exciting parts of the festival as it involves transporting the shrine’s deity out of the temple and through the town in a portable shrine known as the mikoshi.
The roads are closed only on July 15 and 16.
Kyoto is extremely easy to explore through public transport. After all, Japan is known for efficiency, and this applies to transport too! There are world-class subways, trains, buses, and taxis that can take you throughout town for various parts of the Gion Matsuri. However, there’s also the option of walking or biking around since the city is so clean it’s impressive.
There are several hotels found in the main streets where the processions take place. Book a hotel in or nearby Shijo-dori or downtown Kyoto so that you stay in close proximity to the Gion Matsuri’s main events.
Kyoto is renowned for its jaw-dropping beautiful shrines and temples, the most famous of which is the amazing Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. Walk the streets to witness the elegant geishas (or dress up like one!). Shop at the Nishiki Market, and eat your weight in authentic Japanese food.
Everything from the street food to gourmet restaurants will have you coming back for more. Down it with a Sapporo, and you’re set.
The Gion Matsuri will take place from July 1 to 31, 2019.
Rad Season is providing you with hotels and Airbnbs at the lowest prices available online. Book your stay for Gion Matsuri 2019 using the map below!
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