Kyoto’s Aoi Matsuri
Kyoto’s Aoi Matsuri
Kyoto has three main festivals which are the Gion Matsuri, Jidai Matsuri and the Aoi Matsuri. The festival that I will be talking about in this blog is the Aoi Matsuri. This festival takes place every year on the 15th of May. The main attraction of the festival is a parade around Kyoto and in this parade over 500 people get dressed up in aristocratic style of the Heian Period and they walk from the Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrines. The word Aoi means Hollyhock in Japanese and the festival is named after the Hollyhock leaves that are worn by the members of procession.
The Aoi Matsuri began in the 7th century meaning that it predates when Kyoto was established as a national capital in 794. The precise origins of this festival is unknown. It is believed that the deities of the Kamo Shrines were the cause of some of the natural disasters that occurred. However, these natural disasters subsided after the Emperor began making offerings to the gods and that was the start of this tradition. The official name of the festival still remains to be Kamo Matsuri because of the association that it has with the Shrines.
The word festival became synonymous with the Aoi festival during the Heian because of the growing prominence of the Aoi festival. During the festival there are men on horseback, giant bouquets of flowers, ox drawn carts decorated and a large group of women in Kimono that accompany the year’s Saio.
The Saio was a young female member of the imperial family and she served as a high priestess of the Kamo Shrines. Saio would perform rituals at the shrines during the festivals. During the modern era, however, instead of a woman from the imperial family an unmarried young woman from Kyoto would be chosen each year to be the Saio. The woman who is chosen as the Saio must be purified in a ceremony before the festival takes place. She is then taken through the procession on a palanquin.
The festival takes place at the souther gate of the Imperial Palace at 10:30 am and it crosses the river that runs right in front of the Shimogamo Shrine a little past 11 am. Before the procession departs the Kamigamo Shrine there are certain ceremonies that are performed for about two hours. If you would like to watch the watch the whole procession from start to finish then it will be a little over an hour in total.