The Aoi Matsuri festival is an annual celebration of Shimogamo and Kamigamo shrines, and is known as one of Kyoto's three biggest festivals alongside Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri. The origins of this festival date back an astonishing 1,400 years, making it the oldest festival in Kyoto. It is said to have begun as a ceremony wishing for good harvest and the safety of the people during the times when weather was continuously poor. The festival carries traces of the old imperial culture—a rare occurrence among many festivals across Japan—due to it becoming a national event since the Heian era. The long line of the parade stretches for 1km, marching through the city in complete Heian era noble outfits with an array of 500 total people, 36 horses, 4 oxen, and 2 ox carts. Furthermore, as the festival's name suggests, the ox carts and imperial messengers all come out decorated in Aoi (hollyhock) leaves.
While the Gion Matsuri is a festival of the common people, the Aoi Matsuri is a festival of the noble class. 500 men and women dressed exactly as the nobles of the Heian period march with gorgeously decorated horses and oxen—a rare sight of traditional dynasty era Japan on display. The parade is separated into the main "Honretsu" and the "Saioudai-retsu." They leave the Kyoto Imperial Palace at 10:30 am, arriving at Kamigamo Shrine at 3:30 pm via Shimogamo Shrine. Experience the ancient dynasty atmosphere in this famous historical Japanese city.
The Kyoto City Tourism Association sells tickets for paid seats for those who wish to relax while viewing the parade go by. The seats are located beside Kyoto Imperial Palace where the colorful parade leaves from, and at Shimogamo Shrine, a registered UNESCO world heritage site included in "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto." View the festival at a historic location representative of Kyoto.
Paid seat prices:
¥2,050 per seat (all seats assigned, includes a pamphlet)
¥3,500 for a seat with English earphone guidance
*Please contact Kyoto City Tourism Association for tickets (Japanese & English)
Access to Kyoto City
JR Kyoto Station, Kintetsu Kyoto Station
Kyoto Imperial Palace Park (Kyoto Gyoen)
Address: Kyotogyoen 3, Kamigyo-ku Kyoto City, Kyoto
(by train) Ride the subway Karasuma line from Kyoto Station to Marutamachi Station, then walk for 5 min.
(by city bus) Catch the city bus from Kyoto Station to Furitsuidaibyoin-mae bus stop, then walk for 15 min.
Address: Shimogamo-izumigawacho 59, Sakyo-ku Kyoto City, Kyoto
(by train) Ride the subway Karasuma line from Kyoto Station to Kitaoji Station, then catch the city bus (#1 or #205) to Shimogamo-jinjamae (Shimogamo Shrine) bus stop.
(by city bus) Catch the city bus (#4 or #205) from Kyoto Station, then get off at Shimogamo-jinjamae (Shimogamo Shrine) bus stop.