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Home - Travel - Sightseeing Guide - Kansai - Kyoto
Aoi Matsuri 
# 46   of 59 most visited
sights in Kyoto

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The Aoi Matsuri () is one of Kyoto's three most famous festivals (along with the Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri) and takes place every May 15. The festival's main attraction is a large parade in Kyoto, in which over 500 people dressed in the aristocratic style of the Heian Period (794-1185) walk from the Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrines. Aoi is Japanese for Hollyhock, and the festival is named after the Hollyhock leaves that are worn by the members of the procession.

Predating Kyoto's establishment as the national capital in 794, the Aoi Matsuri began in the 7th century, although its precise origins are uncertain. There were most likely natural disasters occurring that were believed to be caused by the deities of the Kamo Shrines. After the Emperor made offerings to the gods, the disasters subsided and a tradition was begun. The festival's official name remains Kamo Matsuri, because of its association with the shrines.

An ornately decorated ox drawn cart

The festival grew in prominence so that during the Heian Period the word festival became synonymous with the Aoi Matsuri. Nowadays, the massive procession illustrates the high regard in which the festival would have been held. There are men on horseback, giant bouquets of flowers, ornately decorated ox drawn carts, and a large retinue of women in kimono accompanying the year's Saio.

Traditionally, the Saio was a young female member of the imperial family who served as the high priestess of the Kamo Shrines. During festivals, the Saio performed rituals at the shrines. In the modern era, a different unmarried woman from Kyoto is selected each year to serve as Saio. She must go through purification ceremonies before the festival, and is taken through the procession on a palanquin.

The Saio of the the 2009 Aoi Matsuri during the morning procession

The parade begins at 10:30 at the southern gate of the Imperial Palace, and crosses the river in front of Shimogamo Shrine at 11:15. Ceremonies are performed within the shrine for about two hours before the procession departs for Kamigamo Shrine, where the head of the parade arrives around 15:30. Watching the entire procession pass by, from beginning to end, takes about one hour.

Paid seating is available at the Imperial Palace and both Kamo Shrines. Without reserved seats, it is advised to arrive early if you intend to see the parade at the Imperial Palace or the Kamo Shrines. The crowd is sparse along the rest of the route, but watching the parade on a regular city street does not provide the same atmosphere. In the days before the festival, related events are held at the shrines, such as horse races and the purification of the Saio and her attendants.

Attendants of the Saio

Any Questions? Ask them in our question forum.

How to get there
The procession departs from the Imperial Palace, passes through Shimogamo Shrine and terminates at Kamigamo Shrine:

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Hours and Fees
Paid Seating

There are seats lining the parade route at the Kyoto Imperial Palace and the Shimogamo Shrine. Seats at the Imperial Palace and Shimogamo Shrine cost 2050 yen and can be purchased at Lawson and Ministop convenience stores or through travel agents. Seats at Kamigamo Shrine cost 1000 yen are sold at the shrine only on the day of the festival, starting at noon.

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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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Kyoto Kamo River Terrace Dining
Easy online reservations through Japanican.

User Ratings
Ratings for Aoi Matsuri:
japan-guide.com Rating:
  outstanding  
User Rating (by 80 users):
84/100
  recommended

Best rated sights nationwide (out of 781):
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217.  Kintai-kyo Bridge (Iwakuni)   84/100
218.  Nagashima Resort (Nagoya)   84/100
219.  Aoi Matsuri (Kyoto)   84/100
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341.  Shorenin Temple (Kyoto)   188
342.  Aoi Matsuri (Kyoto)   186
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English Links
Shimogamo Shrine
Official English website.
Kamigamo Shrine
Official English website.

Japanese Links
Shimogamo Shrine
Official website.
Kamigamo Shrine
Official website.
Aoi Festival
Webpage by the Kyoto Tourism Association.

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