July 1 - July 31
The Gion Matsuri, or ‘Gion-san,’ is a festival of splendid pageant of some 30 floats called yamaboko proceeding along the main streets of Kyoto. This festival is believed to have started 1,100 years ago when floats were made and paraded in the town to appease the deity of plague and illnesses. During the Yamaboko junko parade, children wearing make-up and musicians playing the flute, drums and bells are seated on the second level of the floats. A star of the parade itself is ‘chigo’, a local boy who rides the main yamaboko wearing Shinto robes and a golden phoenix crown. Leading up to the Yamaboko Junko, the Yoiyama festival allows attendees to get up close and personal with the parade’s floats.
Other small festivals occur almost daily during Gion-san. During Byobu Matsuri (Folding Screen Festival), residents open up their homes to visitors. It’s like a citywide house party where everyone is invited. You must also check out the Kencha Matsuri (Tea Ceremony Festival). The art of this custom is the Zen master class of culinary traditions. Another charming choice: Hanagasa Junko, also known as the Flower Umbrella or Hat Procession. Here, amazing bouquets of flowers are crafted into beautiful and artistic headwear displays. Don’t forget your camera and head to the start of the parade to get good shots.
Opening: July 1
Omukae Chochin (welcoming lanterns ceremony): July 10
Mikoshi Arai (mikoshi purification): July 10 & 28
Yoiyama festival: July 14-16
Byobu Matsuri (folding screen festival): July 14-16
Kencha Matsuri (tea ceremony festival): July 16
Yamaboko Junko parade: July 17
Hanagasa Junko (flower umbrella procession): July 24
Kyogen Performance: July 25
Nagoshi-sai (Summer purification ceremony and closing): July 31