Aoi matsuri festival is held in 15 May every year. With many photos and videos, you can see the way to enjoy it . You can also understand its history, the rituals going with it, the famous parade, and so on.
- What is Aoi matsuri festival?
- The history of Aoi matsuri festival
- Saiou-dai in Aoi matsuri festival
- 2018 Aoi matsuri festival; what to see?
- 2018 The parade of Aoi matsuri festival
- 近衛使代列/Konoe-tsukai-dai retsu
- 斎王代列/Sai-oh-dai retsu
- 2018 Itinerary of Aoi matsuri festival
- 2018 Reserved seat of Aoi matsuri festival
- 2018 Where do we see Aoi matsuri festival?
- Access to viewing spot
What is Aoi matsuri festival?
Aoi matsuri festival is formally called “Kamo sai festival” because Kamo shrines hold it. The word “Kamo shrines” means Shimogamo shrine and Kamigamo shrine.
Shimogamo shrine’s formal name is “Kamo mioya jinjya shrine” and that of Kamigamo shrine is “Kamo wake Ikazuchi jinjya shrine”. Both of them has “Kamo”, so we call both shrines “Kamo shrine” as a whole.
These shrines hold Aoi matsuri festival on the second “bird day (We put Chinese zodiac signs like bird, tiger, and other animals on the days in calender.)” on May of ancient Japanese lunar calender. In the present day, they hold it on 15th on May.
Aoi matsuri festival is one of “The three famous festivals in Kyoto (the others are Gion matsuri festival and Jidai matsuri festival)” and also known as one of “The three famous Chokusai in Japan”
Chokusai is a matsuri (festival) held under the order from the Imperial court. At Chokusai, the emperor sends “Chokushi”, the messenger of the Emperor to a shrine that holds Chokusai. Of course in Aoi matsuri, the emperor sends “Chokushi” to Kamo shrines.
In Heian period, “Matsuri” means nothing but Kamo sai festival among aristocrats. In Edo period, poeple called Kamo sai festival “Aoi matsuri” gradually because the participants of Kamo sai festival put leaves of aoi, the shrines crest, on their outfits.
The history of Aoi matsuri festival
The history of Aoi matsuri dates back to 6th century. In the era of emperor Kinnmei, there were many natural disasters and droughts. The emperor asked a fortune-teller about the cause. (Japanese emperor is the highest ranked priest in Shinto, the religion which has gratitude for the nature that gives us harvest. So, if anything wrong about the nature occurred, he is responsible for it.) The fortune-teller told him the cause of the natural disasters and droughts. It was a curse of Kami (Shinto Deity ) of Kamo. The emperor asked him to hold a ritual to ease the Kami of Kamo. This is the begging of Aoi matsuri feitival (Kamo sai).
In Heian period (794-1185), Kamo sai was held as one of the most important matsuri (festival) on the ancient Japanese law.
In Muromachi period (1336–1573), aristocrats was losing their power and influences and Kamo sai was on the decline. After “Onin no ran”, the largest-scale civil war in ancient time of Japan, Kamo sai ceased to exist. In Edo period(1603–1868), the matsuri (festival) was held again but stopped again in Meiji period(1868–1912). In the short time in Meiji and Showa period(1926–1989), the matsuri (festival) was held but stopped again during the WWll. In the end, the festival restored in 1953.
Saiou-dai in Aoi matsuri festival
Saioh-dai is a most famous lady in Aoi matsuri festival (The lady in the picture above.). The word “dai” means a substitute for someone/something in Japanese. So let me tell you about “Saioh”.
Saioh is a Shinto priestess works as a deputy of the emperor. In the Heian period, when the new emperor was enthroned, a fortune-teller chose Saiou among unmarried ladies in the imperial family on a special fortune-telling.
Once a lady was elected as Saioh, she moved to a small palace called “Hatsu sai in” to purify herself for three years. After the purification of three years, she moved to a small palace temporary built for Saiou called “Nomiya” and purified herself at the river Kamo. After these purification, she was in a state to serve as a deputy of the emperor.
If you were interested in Japanese culture or literature, you might know The Tale of Genjiwritten by Murasaki Shikibu. In the chapter ‘Aoi’, you can find a incident called “Kuruma arasoi”. That is a small conflict took place at Aoi matsuri festival.
Saiou became extinct in Kamakura period (1185–1333) and was restored as “Saiou-dai” We call her “Saiou-dai” i.e. the substitute for Saiou because she was not erected among the members of the royal family nor is Shinto priestess.
2018 Aoi matsuri festival; what to see?
Rituals prior to Aoi matsuri
Yabusame (Japanese traditional archery)
“Yabusame” is a Japanese traditional archery on horse. This yabusame is held in order to pray the safety of Aoi matsuri festival. The archers shoot arrows three times on their steeds.
My turn, ヒヒン!
A track for Yabusame. Horses run in the field devided by ropes.
Take a look at an archer. He dresses in “Kariginu”, the garment for hunting in Heian period.
“Kariginu” was a clothing for hunting but became a plain cloth for aristocrats.
These plates are targets.
As Amulet, we can have the target which was broken by arrow.
The way an archer shoot an arrow and break a target with it.
Let us see Yabusame in video. The archer breaks all targets.
An archer takes white silk cloth as his prize.
He dances and shows his appreciation.
Saioh-dai Gokei no gi (Purification of Saioh-dai)
Nowadays, Saioh-dai purifies herself at a stream called Mitarashi-gawa in Shimogamo shrine. Saioh dai Gokei no gi takes place Kamigamo and Shimogamo shrine every other year.
These little girls in orange and white serve for Saioh-dai.
She put her hands into the river and purifies herself.
She wipes her hand with a sheet of paper.
These ladies are participants of parade of Aoi matsuri festival. A Priest purifies them.
Enjoy the Gokei no gi of 2018!
Busha shinji (Taking away evil spirit with arrow)
Priests and archers enter into the area of Shimogamo shrine.
An archer shoots an arrow over “Romon” gate to get rid of evil sprit because the messenger of the emperor passes through the gate.
The arrow is called “Hikimeya”. Take a look at the arrowhead. There is a red object. It is called “Hikime”. When the archer shoots the arrow, “Hikime” makes sound. The sound take away the evil spirit.
This is a common arrow. It has a small arrowhead. Be sure the difference between them.
This is an another bowing ritual called “Momoteshiki”. The word “Momoteshiki” means ten archers shoot ten arrows.
Kamo kurabeuma (Kamo horse race)
This horse race is held to pray for peace, prosperity, and rich cultivation.
Mikage matsuri is the most important ritual prior to Aoi matsuri. In this ritual, priests brings new-born “Kami”, a Deity of Shinto to Shimkogamo shrine.
“Kami” has two aspects. The one is fierce aspect called “Aramitama”. It brings us anything bad like disasters, famine, malady, and so on. The another is peaceful aspect called “Nigimitama”. It bring us anything good like harvest, peaceful state of mind, and so on.
At Mikage shrine, the sub-shrine of Shimogamo shrine, “Aramitama” of Kamotaketsunumi no mikoto and Tamayorihime no mikoto, both of them are enshrined Kami in Shimogamo shrine, is born. Take a look at the picture above. The priest in red holds a small box. The Aramitama of both Kami is in it.
The horse brings the box to the shrine.
This is a ritual called “Kirishiba-shinji”. The horse sees the ritual on behalf of Kami on its back.
If you were interested in Mikage matsuri, please see this article (Sorry! Written in Japanese only.).
Aoi matsuri festival
Sya to no gi (Rituals at Shines)
The rituals are held when the parade of Aoi matsuri festival arrives at both Shimogamo and Kamigamo shrine.
Roto no gi (Parade)
The most famous thing in Aoi matusuri festival. Abour 500 people in the garments of Heian period march from Kyoto Imperial Palace to Kamigamo shrine by way of Shimnogamo shrine. It takes nearly 5 hours.
2018 The parade of Aoi matsuri festival
First of all, enjoy the video.
Kimoiri is the man in white and purple outfits. He leads the parade.
They are the jockeys of “Kamo kurabe”, the horse race ritual held prior to Aoi matsuri in Kamigamo shrine.
検非違使志/Kebi-ishi no sakan
He is a kind of police officer.
検非違使尉/Kebi-ishi no jyo
He is a cheif police officer.
These “Kebi-ishis” are in charge of the security in “Heian-kyo”, the ancient Kyoto city. They attend the parade because the Imperial palace is located there.
山城使/Yamashiro no Etsukai
He is an officer in charge of the security of the outside of the ancient Kyoto city.
He attends the parade because Kamigamo and Shimogamo shrines are located outside of the city.
Inside of the box they carry, there are roles of cloth which the emperor sends to Kamigamo and Shimogamo shrines. The cloth is called “Gohei motsu”.
These roles are actual Goheimotsu.
内蔵寮史生/Kuraryo no shiyo
He is an officer in charge of the Goheimotsu.
They ride the “Oumas” to let the Deity of Kamigamo and Shimogamo shrines see them galloping.
近衛使代（勅使）の牛車/Gissya for Konoe tsukai dai
A wagon pulled by an ox. This “Gissya” is the hugest one for retired emperors or high ranked offcials. It was ornamented with flowers in Aoi matsuri festival.
There are 6 “maiudos” in the parede. They dance “Azuma asobi” in front of the Deity.
We have 7 “Beijyus” in the parade. They are musicians to play “Gagaku”, the traditional Japanese music for the Deity.
He is the most important figure in Aoi matsuri festival.
He is a messenger of the emperor to the Deity.
He has a small bag in the breast. It contains a letter from the emperor. Knoe-tsukai-dai reads it out to the Deity.
These umbrellas are decolated with flowers to make the parade graceful.
They are high-ranked female officials serve for the imperial court.
The most famous person in the parade. She is a priestess attends Aoi matsuri on behalf of the emperor.(He is the highest ranked Shinto priest.) The litter she is on is called “O-yoyo”, or “Shihoh goshi”.
In the the Heian period, the emperor, empress, and Saioh had a privilege to be on litter. (The photo above is a litter for the emperor in Jidai matsuri festival.)
She dresses herself in “Jyuni-hitoe”, the full dress of lady in Heian period. “Jyuni-hitoe” literary means “A dress consists of twelve layers of robes” but the word “Jyuni (12 in Japanese) actually means “many”. The video above shows you the way to wear it. The dress is so thick and heavy and has so long tail that she cannot walk alone. So these little ladies hold the tail of the dress. This “Jyuni-hitoe” is a de facto name of “Itsutsu ginu karaginumo”.
She wears white robe over “Jyuni-hitoe”. The robe reveals that she is attending ritual because it is worn when priestess is in sacred place. The stick she hold is “Hioh-gi”, the wooden fan.
Let me show you examples. The priestess dresses herself in the ordinary outfit for priestess.
On the other hand, the priestesses in the picture wear white robes. They serve for a wedding ritual.
She ties up her hair in “Osuberakashi”, a traditional hairstyle of court lady. The golden plate with an antler on her hair is “Kokoro-ba”. It is an ornament priestess wears. The antler stands for a plum tree.
The white cords hanging on her hair is “Hikage no ito”. In the days of old, Sai-oh wore plant called “Higeno kazura” instead.
She is a priestess serves for “Saioh-dai”.
They also are priestesses serve for “Saioh-dai”.
Their robes has long tails. When they are on horses, they were folded.
They are female officials serve for the Imperial court.
蔵人陪従/Kurodo no beiju
They are musicians serve for Sai-oh.
斎王代の牛車/Gissya for saioh-dai
The Gissya is as large as that of Konoe-tsukai-dai but “Sai-oh” would ride on a smaller Gissya called “Itoge-kuruma”.
2018 Itinerary of Aoi matsuri festival
The itinerary of the parade
Kenreimon in Kyoto Imperial Palace
Sakaimachigomon in Kyoto Imperial Palace
Arrive at Shimogamo shrine
Start from Shimogamo shrine
Rakuhoku high school
Arrive at Kamigamo shrine
These are approximate time. It takes about 40 min. to see the whole parade.
2018 Reserved seat of Aoi matsuri festival
Reserved seat of Kyoto Imperial Palace and Shimogamo shrine
If you would like “Viewing seat” ticket, you can buy it at Kyoto City Tourism Association(Japanese language only). The last year, it cost 2050 yen for one person.
Reserved seat of Kamigamo shrine
We cannot buy this seat ticket in advance. We buy it on 15th of May at Kamigamo shrine. 1000 yen for one person.
2018 Where do we see Aoi matsuri festival?
The lines map shows the route of the parade. A red Torii is Kyoto Imperial Palece. A green Torii is Shimogamo shrine. A blue Torii is Kmigamo shrine. IF you click aliens, you can see approximate time indicated in the last chapter. The following are places I recommend.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Red lines are “Viewing seats”.
At blue Alien, the members of the parade wait for start.
You can have a good view of the parade.
At green alien, you can see the parade and traditional Japanense gate.
At red alien, you can see the parade and traditional Japanense wall.
At Shimogamo shrine, the parade passes through very narrow street in the Tadasuno mori forest. If you wanted to see the parade there, you would be better in the reserved seat.
Red lines are “Viewing seats (Reserved seat)”.
Hondensai is a ritual held before the parade arrives. It starts 13:30.
The parade of Aoi matsuri
The parede arrives at Kamigamo shrine around 15:30. I think this is the best place to see Aoi matsuri festival becaase you can see the parade so closely.
Access to viewing spot
YOU BETTER TAKE TAXI
If you took bus, You should be confused because bus routes are changed to avoid traffic jam.
In case of you would like to take bus and trains, read the following.
Kyoto Imperial Place
Take subway Karasuma Line. About five minuites walk from Karasuma station.
Take #17, 102, 201, 203, or other buses stops at Demachiyanagi Ekimae bus stop.
About five minuites walk from Demachiyanagi Ekimae bus stop.
Take subway Karasuma line and go to Subway Kitaoji station. At Kitaoji bus terminal adjacent to Subway Kitaoji station, take #37 bus and get off at Kamigamo misonobashi bus stop.