Gion Matsuri 

祇園祭   Click to listen highlighted text! 祇園祭

(gion matsuri)

Gion Matsuri is one of the most iconic festivals in Japan, held annually in Kyoto during the month of July. With its colorful processions, street food, and traditional music and dance performances, it’s a celebration that captures the spirit and beauty of Japanese culture.

The festival dates back to 869 AD, when Kyoto was struck by a plague that decimated the population. The Emperor at the time ordered a series of religious rituals to be performed to appease the gods and bring an end to the epidemic. One of these rituals was the Gion Shrine procession, which became an annual event that continues to this day.

Gion Matsuri is a month-long festival, but the main events take place on July 17th and 24th. On the 17th, a procession of floats called “yamaboko” make their way through the streets of Kyoto. The floats are adorned with intricate decorations and are accompanied by musicians playing traditional Japanese instruments.

The yamaboko are divided into two categories: “hoko,” which are tall and slender and can reach up to 25 meters in height, and “yama,” which are shorter and wider. Each float is built by a different neighborhood association in Kyoto, and the designs are kept secret until the day of the festival.

On July 24th, a second procession takes place, this time featuring the “mikoshi” or portable shrines. The mikoshi are carried through the streets by local residents, who believe that carrying the shrines brings good luck and prosperity.

In addition to the processions, Gion Matsuri also features a wide variety of street food and traditional arts and crafts, such as pottery and weaving. Visitors can sample local delicacies like “yatsuhashi,” a sweet rice cake filled with red bean paste, or “kakigori,” a shaved ice dessert flavored with syrup.

Despite its long history, Gion Matsuri has evolved over time to reflect the changing culture of Kyoto. Today, it is a vibrant and lively festival that attracts visitors from all over the world, offering a glimpse into the rich traditions of Japan.

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