- What is Aoi matsuri festival?
- The history of Aoi matsuri festival
- Saiou-dai in Aoi matsuri festival
- 2017 Aoi matsuri festival; what to see?
- 2017 The parade of Aoi matsuri festival
- 2017 Itinerary of Aoi matsuri festival
- 2017 Viewing seat of Aoi matsuri festival
- 2017 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 held 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 The three famous Chokusai in Japan”
Chokusai is a matsuri (festival) held on the order of the Imperial court. At Chokusai, the emperor sends Chokushi, the messenger of the Emperor to a shrine that holds Chokusai.
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.
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 God ) 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), arstpcrats was losing their power and influences and Kamosai 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
Saiou-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 Saiou.
Saiou is a Shinto priestess works as a deputy of the emperor. In Heian period, a emperor enthroned, a fortune-teller chose Saiou among unmarried ladies in the imperial family on a special fortune-telling.
Once she was elected as Saiou, 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.
2017 Aoi matsuri festival; what to see?
Yabusame (Japanese traditional archery)
“Yabusame” is a Japanese traditional archery on horse. This yabusame is held for the purpose of praying the safety of Aoi matsuri festival. The archer shoot arrows three times on his steed.
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.
Saiou dai misogino gi (Purification of Saiou dai)
Nowadays, Saioudai purifies herself at the river Mitarashi in Shimogamo shrine.
These little girls in orange and white serve for Saiou-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.
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 ger 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 pre-ritual. In this ritual, priests brings new-born “Kami” 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.
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.
2017 The parade of Aoi matsuri festival
Jockeys of Kamo kurabeuma.
Inside of the box, there are rolls of cloth which was sent to Shimogamo and Kmiganmo shrine from imperial court.
The parade of “Chokushi”, the messenger of the emperor
The gisha of chokushi
”Gisha” is a wagon pulled by cow. In Heian period, aristocrats take this wagon when they go outside.
Chokushi, the messenger of the emperor
He is the highest ranked official and the most important figure in the parade.
The parade of Saiou-dai
The high ranked female servants for Saiou-dai.
The most famous person in the parade. She dresses herself in “Jyuni-hitoe”, the full dress of lady in Heian period. “Jyuni-hitoe” means “A dress consists of twelve layers of robes.” The dress is so thick and heavy and has so long tail that she cannot walk alone. So these little girls 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 was worn when priestess is in sacred place.
Mumanori onna (Ladies on horse)
They also are priestess.
She is a priestess who serve for Saiou-dai when she was in ritual.
Gisya of Saiou-dai
2017 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.
2017 Viewing seat of Aoi matsuri festival
Viewing seat of Kyoto Imperial Palace and Shimogamo shrine
If you would like “Viewing seat” ticket, see this English page of Kyoto City Tourism Association. 2050 yen for one person.
Viewing 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.
2017 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.
Red lines are “Viewing seats”.
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.