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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 two are particularly renowned: the Yamaboko Junko, a procession of floats on July 17th; and Yoiyama, the festive evenings preceding the procession.

Floats and History

The word Yamaboko refers to the two types of floats used in the procession: Yama, of which there are 23, and hoko, of which there are 9. One of the main reasons the Gion Matsuri is so impressive is the enormity of the hoko, which can be 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.

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. From the 14th to the 16th, the 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).

The procession of floats (Yamaboko Junko) takes place between 9:00 and 13:00 on the 17th and follows a 3 km route along Shijo, Kawaramachi and Oike streets. 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 10th to 14th, for example, visitors can watch the assembling of the floats. The Byobu Matsuri, which coincides with the days of Yoiyama (July 14-16), 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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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.
Ryokan Wakamiya
Inexpensive, cozy inn with helpful staff. 7 min walk from JR Kyoto Sta. Free Internet PC. Communal baths on top floor.
Gion Shinmonso
A fine ryokan in the Gion near geisha streets. Easy access to Kiyomizu-dera and Yasaka-jinja. Special offers available.
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.
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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User Ratings
Ratings for Gion Matsuri:
japan-guide.com Rating:
  best of Japan  
User Rating (by 333 users):
89/100
  recommended

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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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Kansai Region
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