It is a great attraction that you can experience local festivals while traveling. We will introduce the most well known Kyoto summer festival “Gion Matsuri”, one of the three major festivals in Japan. During the Gion festival, so many people from all over the world come to Kyoto. Kyoto is filled with enthusiasm.
If you come to Kyoto in July, you should not miss the Gion Matsuri!
What is the summer festival, Gion Matsuri in Kyoto?
Gion Matsuri is a festival of Yasaka Shrine, a famous shrine in Kyoto. It originated in the Heian period when an epidemic raged in Kyoto and many people died. People thought it was a curse so they prayed to a divine spirit and started to parade through the town to suppress the curse.
It is one of the three major festivals in Japan, along with the Kanda Festival in Tokyo and the Tenjin Festival in Osaka. Gion Matsuri is held on July 1st through 31st. Gion festival is the event signaling the coming of the summer in Kyoto.
Yasaka Shrine: http://www.yasaka-jinja.or.jp/en/
When is the peak of the Gion Matsuri ?
The most exciting part of the Gion festival is “Yamaboko Junko” (The processions of floats) on July 17th and 24th. The floats called “Yamaboko” parade through Kyoto in these two days. “Yamaboko” are festival floats known as the “Moving Art Museum” for its beauty. Also, “Yamaboko” are registered tangible cultural properties. The biggest “Yamaboko” is 12 tons and 25 meters tall. This is about as tall as an 8-story building! These floats are assembled using only a tree and a rope and without using a single nail! You can see a total of 33 “Yamaboko” on July 17th and 24th… Each “Yamaboko” has a special meaning and is decorated gorgeously. You should see these special moving works of art!
The first parade starts from the intersection of Shijo Karasuma from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm on the 17th. The second parade starts from the intersection of Karasuma Oike from 9:30 to 11:50 on the 24th.
The strong connection between Gion Matsuri and kids
In June, the news of who was chosen as this year’s Ochigo-san made the headlines in the media in Kyoto. Ochigo-san is a child attendant in the Gion Matsuri procession. Ochigo-san is selected among the boys from 8 to 10 years old living in Kyoto. He is on the head float of parade and has a major role in the Gion Matsuri.
Originally, children were on every float as a sacrifice to the deity, but now, most of the floats use dolls as a substitute for the real kids, and there is only one float that can be ridden by a child. Therefore, it is really an honor to be chosen as Ochigo-san in Kyoto.
Gion Matsuri and local children
Local children are essential to the Gion Festival. The children in Kyoto help with the Gion Matsuri from childhood and develop as leaders of Gion Matsuri.
One thing they help with is selling “chimaki”. “Chimaki” is an amulet made of bamboo grass. The people of Kyoto decorate their house with such an amulet. People in Kyoto buy this amulet and decorate their front door for a year.
In addition, the children can pull the “Yamaboko.”
How to enjoy Gion Matsuri with kids
If you want to enjoy the festival with kids, it is recommended to go on July 15th or 16th. In these two days, Kyoto’s main street Shijo-dori turns into a pedestrian-only zone at night. When the town gets dark and the lanterns are lit, the festival is at its peak!
There are many stands that children can enjoy such as goldfish scooping. Also, you can enjoy Japanese foods including takoyaki and okonomiyaki.
People in Kyoto enjoy the Gion Matsuri with their family, friends, and lovers in these two days.
Things to be careful of when going to Gion Festival with kids
- The summer in Kyoto is very hot. There are many days the temperature goes over 30 degrees Celcius(close to 90 F)! The crowds of people along with the heat can really make you feel tired. You want to be sure to drink plenty of water and rest frequently!
- Regardless of day or night, there are many people, so please be sure to keep a close eye on your child. We recommend going in the daytime.
- Because of the large crowds, it is difficult to move with a stroller. We recommend using a baby carrier.
Enjoy this seasonal event in Kyoto, Gion Matsuri, with your family!