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Home - Travel - Sightseeing Guide - Kansai - Kyoto
Gion Matsuri 
# 26   of 59 most visited
sights in Kyoto

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Gion Matsuri (_), the festival of Yasaka Shrine, is the most famous festival in Japan. It takes place over the entire month of July. There are many different events, but the grand procession of floats (Yamaboko Junko) on July 17 is particularly spectacular. Very enjoyable, are also the festive evenings preceding the procession (Yoiyama). From 2014, a second procession of floats will be reintroduced on July 24 after a hiatus of 48 years. The second procession will feature fewer and smaller floats than the one on July 17.

Floats and History

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 enormity 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. The procession on July 17 features 23 yama and hoko, including most of the particularly impressive hoko, while the procession on July 24 features the remaining ten yama and hoko.

Another reason for the festival's impressiveness is its long and almost uninterrupted history. It dates back to 869 as a religious ceremony to appease the gods during the outbreak of an epidemic. Even today, the festival continues the practice of selecting a local boy to be a divine messenger. The child cannot set foot on the ground from the 13th until after he has been paraded through town on the 17th.

The sacred child of the 2007 Gion Matsuri

Main Events

Ironically, the highlight events of Gion Matsuri do not actually take place in the Gion district, but rather on the opposite side of Kamo River. During the three days preceding the procession, the respective yama and hoko are displayed within about a half kilometer of the intersection of Karasuma and Shijo streets (see map below). While they are on display, some of the floats can be entered by tourists.

The area becomes most exciting in the evenings, when from 18:00 until 23:00, the streets are closed to traffic and the area swells with food stands, drink vendors, and other festival hallmarks. These festive evenings leading up to the procession are known as Yoiyama (July 16), Yoiyoiyama (July 15) and Yoiyoiyoiyama (July 14). Similar festivities also take place on the three evenings leading up to the procession on July 24, albeit on a smaller scale and without road closures and stands.

The processions of floats (Yamaboko Junko) take place between 9:00 and 11:30 on the 17th and 24th and follow a three kilometer long route along Shijo, Kawaramachi and Oike streets (starting from Shijo-Karasuma on the 17th and from Karasuma-Oike on the 25th). Some paid seating is provided in front of the city hall (3100 yen; advance booking required), but because the procession takes place over quite a long route and duration, good viewpoints can also be found elsewhere without too much trouble.

Procession of Floats

Other Events

Gion Matsuri's other events are not quite as impressive, but also enjoyable. From July 10 to 14 (and from July 17 to 21 for the second procession), visitors can watch the assembling of the floats, which is done from scratch and without the use of nails each year. The Byobu Matsuri, which coincides with the days of Yoiyama, involves local residents opening their front doors and exhibiting family heirlooms to passersby.

The procession of mikoshi takes place from 18:00 on the 17th, starting at Yasaka Shrine and ending at the Otabisho. The event involves carrying the shrine's deity out of the shrine grounds and through the town in a mikoshi, a portable shrine, which is set on wooden beams and carried on the shoulders of local men. On the 24th, the mikoshi is returned to the shrine.

Float displayed during Yoiyama

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Hotels and Ryokan
Kyoto offers a wide range of accommodation for all budgets and tastes, including historic ryokan, Western style hotels and low-budget hostels. Among the most attractive districts to stay are the Kyoto Station area, the city center around Shijo Street and the Higashiyama District.
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Arashiyama Hanaikada
A little, superior ryokan right near Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashiyama. Free transfer at JR station. Private onsen bath.
Backpackers Hostel K's House Kyoto
Voted No.1 hostel chain worldwide for 2010&2011 by Hostelworld.com customers. 9 min. walk from JR Kyoto Station. Beds from 2,300 yen.
Gion Hatanaka
A real Japanese inn in a quiet area of Gion, famous for Geisha. 15min walk to Kiyomizu-dera. 5min to Yasaka-jinja.
Ryokan Saka-no-ue
Traditional, cozy ryokan with 12 rooms. Japanese cottage style houses available. Located near Yasaka Shrine and Gion.
Ryokan Hirashin
3min walk to Shijo Karasuma Sta. Spacious Japanese-style rooms. 140 years of history. Public baths renovated in 2006.
Japanese hotel, Ryokan Nishiyama
Experience the real Japan at our affordable ryokan. Close to major tourist spots in Kyoto.
Ryokan Motonago
A real traditional inn at Gion with 11 rooms, friendly staff. Walking distance of Kiyomizu-dera, Yasaka-jinja and more.
Hotel Sanoya
3 min from north exit of JR Kyoto Sta. but in quiet area. Cozy, clean Japanese rooms with bath. Internet PC in lobby.
Recommended Hotels around Kyoto - with lowest rates by selected hotel reservation websites
Backpackers Hostel Ks House Kyoto
One of Kyoto's most popular hostels. A ten minute walk from Kyoto Station.
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Hotel Granvia Kyoto
Located inside Kyoto Station, this is Kyoto's most convenient 4-star hotel.
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Hyatt Regency Kyoto Hotel
Elegant luxury hotel located near Sanjusangendo Temple.
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Khaosan Kyoto Guest House
Cheap and popular hostel located in the heart of the city near Kawaramachi Station.
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New Miyako Hotel Kyoto
Reasonably priced 3-star hotel located just across the street from Kyoto Station.
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Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto
Modern hotel along Sanjo Street close to Pontocho and other dining options.
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Tours and Packages
Kyoto Kamo River Terrace Dining
Easy online reservations through Japanican.
JR Tokai Tours
Your Shinkansen and hotel package professional. Fantastic Kyoto tours from Tokyo at excellent prices!
Kyoto Tours
Various tours and travel packages for Kyoto and surroundings.

User Ratings
Ratings for Gion Matsuri:
japan-guide.com Rating:
  best of Japan  
User Rating (by 344 users):
89/100
  recommended

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114.  Gion Matsuri (Kyoto)   693
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English Links
Yasaka Shrine
Official English website.
Gion Matsuri - Festival Summary
Gion Matsuri - Floats
Website by the festival's volunteers with English descriptions.

Japanese Links
Yasaka Shrine
Official website.
Gion Matsuri
Website by the festival's volunteers.

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