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Asian culture – Gion Matsuri in Japan

7 Jul 2022

Gion Matsuri is finally back after three years!

Gion Matsuri (祇園祭), also known as the festival of Yasaka Shrine, is one of the three largest festivals in Japan and probably the most well-known matsuri. It occurs over the entire month of July with many different events and the Yamaboko Junko procession. However, due to COVID-19, the festival had taken a break in 2020 and 2021. Luckily, the COVID-19 situation is under control this year, and the Gion Matsuri is back again!

Gion Matsuri Floats are wheeled through the cityHistory of Gion Matsuri
Gion Marsuri is a traditional event held by the Japanese with a long and unbroken history. It dates back to Year 869 as a religious rite of appeasing the gods during an epidemic outbreak. Even today, the festival tradition of selecting a local boy to be a divine messenger is being kept by the Japanese. He cannot set foot on the ground from the 13th until after being paraded through town on the 17th. The Japanese are so determined to hold this event that it will go on no matter its slight rain or heavy rain.

About the floats
The word Yamaboko refers to the two types of floats used in the procession: the 23 yama and 10 hoko. One of the main reasons the Gion Matsuri is so impressive is the gigantism of the hoko, which are up to 25 meters tall, weigh up to 12 tons, and are pulled on wheels as big as people. Both yama and hoko are elaborately decorated and represent unique themes.

Gion Matsuri Floats are wheeled through the city

Details of Yamaboko Junko procession
Right after the rainy season, the entire city of Kyoto embraces the festive atmosphere during the three evenings (Yoiyoiyoiyama on July 14, Yoiyoiyama on July 15, and  Yoiyama on July 16), and preceding the spectacular grand procession of float (Yamaboko Junko). In 2014, the festival evolved into two days of processions, and July 24 was reintroduced as a second procession after a hiatus of 48 years. The grand procession of floats will be held on July 17, featuring 23 yama and hoko, including most of the particularly impressive hoko. The second procession on July 24 features the remaining ten yama and hoko. To celebrate the return of the festival this year, Taka Yama (鷹山), a very historical float that has been taking a rest for 196 years, will join the second procession of floats on July 24. It is the highlight of this year’s Gion Matsuri. 

Close-up of people inside the yama

According to the officials, the Yamaboko Junko will be held between 9:00 and 13:00 on the 17th and from 9:30 to 11:50 on the 24th. She follows a three-kilometer-long route along Shijo, Kawaramachi and Oike streets. Some paid seating is provided in front of the city hall and Karasuma Oike area (4100 yen; advance booking is required). If you missed the ticketing, you might enjoy the procession along the route.

Gion Matsuri Road Map
Photo credit: Traditional Kyoto

Japan announced the re-opening of its border in June. If you are in Japan this summer, don’t miss this traditional event in Kyoto.

If you have any questions about relocating, please feel free to contact your local Asian Tigers office or reach out to us via our online contact form.

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