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A Festival – or 500 – for All Seasons in Kyoto

July 26, 2014 Destination North Asia No Comments Email Email

One of Japan’s most well preserved ancient cities, home to more than 1,600 temples, Kyoto has a lot to celebrate. So much, in fact, that the historic city hosts some 500 festivals every year.

Which means that regardless of the time of year you visit, you’re almost guaranteed to witness a dazzling event.

Jidai Festival

Among the largest and most important is Gion Matsuri, one of Japan’s most significant festivals and part of a purification ritual to appease the gods thought to cause fire, floods and earthquakes. Taking its name from Kyoto’s Gion district, the event consumes the city for the month of July, crowned by parades on July 17 and 24 – for three days prior to each parade, streets are turned into pedestrian zones, lined with food stalls dishing up traditional delicacies. During the parades, 32 elaborate floats are carried or rolled through the streets, with float designs nodding to Chinese and Japanese history and mythology; some double-storey floats have space for musicians and pageboys.

Other upcoming festivals in 2014

Gion Festival

Daimonji Gozan Okuribi (Bonfire Festival): August 16

The culmination of the Obon festival, this dazzling event sees five bonfires lit on mountains surrounding the city. From 8pm, the fires – three of which resemble giant Chinese characters and two resemble familiar motifs – light up the night sky, and signify the moment in which the spirits of deceased family members visiting during Oban are send back to the spirit world.

Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages): October 22
One of Kyoto’s three great festivals, Jidai dates back to the Meiji era (1895), when the 1100th anniversary of the relocation of the capital was celebrated. The day begins early, with mikoshi (portable shrines) taken to the city’s Old Imperial Palace, where people flock to pay their respects.

In the afternoon, a five-hour costume procession sees more than 2,000 performers dressed as samurai, military figures and common people from history take over the streets, followed by women in elaborate kimonos, musicians and the portable mikoshi.

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