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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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Ryokan Hirashin
3min walk to Shijo Karasuma Sta. Spacious Japanese-style rooms. 140 years of history. Public baths renovated in 2006.
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Ryokan Motonago
A real traditional inn at Gion with 11 rooms, friendly staff. Walking distance of Kiyomizu-dera, Yasaka-jinja and more.
Ryokan Wakamiya
Inexpensive, cozy inn with helpful staff. 7 min walk from JR Kyoto Sta. Free Internet PC. Communal baths on top floor.
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.
Gion Shinmonso
A fine ryokan in the Gion near geisha streets. Easy access to Kiyomizu-dera and Yasaka-jinja. Special offers available.
Izuyasu
Peaceful small ryokan with 170-year history. 10min walk from JR Kyoto Sta. The 7th inn keeper serves Kyoto Kaiseki cuisines. Private baths & Wi-Fi. Renovated in 2013.
Arashiyama Hanaikada
A little, superior ryokan right near Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashiyama. Free transfer at JR station. Private onsen bath.
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Khaosan Kyoto Guest House
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New Miyako Hotel Kyoto
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Modern hotel along Sanjo Street close to Pontocho and other dining options.
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User Ratings
Ratings for Gion Matsuri:
japan-guide.com Rating:
  best of Japan  
User Rating (by 347 users):
89/100
  recommended

Best rated sights nationwide (out of 786):
65.  Ritsurin Koen (Takamatsu)   90/100
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68.  Mount Misen (Miyajima)   90/100
69.  Nachi Taisha (Kumano)   90/100
70.  Gion Matsuri (Kyoto)   89/100
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112.  Walking Trails (Miyajima)   704
113.  Tofukuji Temple (Kyoto)   704
114.  Gion Matsuri (Kyoto)   700
115.  Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (Kobe)   696
116.  Toshodaiji Temple (Nara)   693
117.  Tokyo Skytree (Tokyo)   690
118.  Higashiyama (Kyoto)   683

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We strive to keep japan-guide.com up-to-date and accurate, and are always looking for ways to improve the user experience. If you have any updates, suggestions, corrections or opinions, please let us know:

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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