The "Hassaku" in Hassakusai refers to the new moon in August. This festival was started over 130 years ago just around the time of August 1st on the old lunar calendar—when Kyoto sees an increase in strong winds—as a way to pray for damage-free crops and safety in the household.
The festival starts with the mikoshi (portable shrine) parade where only women are allowed to do the carrying, and is followed by crying baby sumo matches and regular adult sumo matches. Among all the events, the Sagano Rokusai Nenbutsu Dance is the most thrilling and includes the popular Shishi-mai, or lion dance.
In preparation for the main festival on Sunday, food and game stalls set up from the night before as Bon-odori dances break out to drum performances and locals gather in traditional summer robes, clinging to summer.
The mikoshi at this festival is not for men—a rare sight for almost all of Japan. It is possible to join in on the mikoshi carrying if one becomes a member of the Yamabuki-kai (the female-only mikoshi group of Matsuo Taisha Shrine) ahead of time. Women in matching white attire run throughout the shrine grounds, then head by boat for the Uchitanimunakata Shrine on Mt. Arashiyama.
The main event of this festival is the Sagano Rokusai Nenbutsu Dance. A dance performance to 17 songs goes on for over an hour. Three lions dance, sometimes moving intensely, to the rhythmical sound of drums. Don't miss the thrilling fight between the lion and the spider either.
This is limited only to Saturday. Visitors usually grab something to eat at the festival stands, and if they don't participate in the Bon-odori dance themselves, well then they are able to enjoy the splendid visual display. The some 2,500 lanterns, displayed beautifully, color the Kyoto night.
Prior membership into the Yamabuki-kai is needed in order to participate in carrying the woman mikoshi.
Access to Kyoto
Address: 3, Arashiyama Miyamachi, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
1. Take the subway to Shijo Station. Transfer to the Hankyu Line at Shijo Karasuma Station to Katsura Station. Transfer to Hankyu Arashiyama Line, get off at Matsuo Station. A 3min walk from there.
2. From the bus station in front of Kyoto Station, take the number 28 bus that leaves from D3 heading for Arashiyama/Daikakuji. Get off at Matsuo Taisha Mae. It is a 3min walk from there (takes roughly 40min altogether).