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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 the year 2014, a second procession of floats was reintroduced on July 24 after a hiatus of 48 years. The second procession features 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.

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 with fewer road closures and stands. In 2023, road closures will happen only on July 15 and 16.

The processions of floats (Yamaboko Junko) take place between 9:00 and 13:00 on the 17th and from 9:30 to 11:50 on the 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 24th). Some paid seating is provided in front of the city hall (4100-5100 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.

Other events

Gion Matsuri's other events are not quite as impressive but also enjoyable. From July 10 to 14 (and from July 18 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.

Getting there and around

Hotels around Kyoto

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    • Ryokan Hirashin
      A traditional hotel with spacious rooms and high speed Wi-Fi. Conveniently located in the heart of Kyoto city. 3min to Shijo Karasuma Sta. and 5min to the famous Nishiki Market.
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    • Arashiyama Hanaikada
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    • Mitsuki Kyoto
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      In a prime location in Kyoto, Mitsuki Kyoto offers an Asian breakfast and free WiFi. The property features inner courtyard and quiet street views, and is 600 metres from Kyoto International Manga Museum. The accommodation features full-day security, and luggage storage for guests. The ryokan provides certain units with garden views, and the units are equipped with a private bathroom. Guests can enjoy a vegetarian or a vegan breakfast, which can also be delivered to your room. The area is popular for cycling, and bike hire is available at this 2-star ryokan. Guests can also relax in the garden. Nijo Castle is 1.1 km from the ryokan, while Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall is 1.8 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 46 km from Mitsuki Kyoto.
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    • Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS
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      Located in Kyoto, this traditional Japanese guest house features free Wi-Fi and a free public computer. Shichijo Onmae bus stop is 3 minutesf walk away. A seating area and shared bathroom are provided with each room at Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS. Free toiletries are provided and blankets are available upon request. Select rooms have a garden view. A shared living area and bicycles are available for guestsf use during their stay at this Kyoto Guesthouse Compass. Access to the shared kitchen is available upon request. The guest house is 4.5 km from Imperial Palace and 2.2 km from Kyoto Station. Nijo Castle and Toji Castle are within a 30 minutesf bus ride away.
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    • Ryokan Tori
      Mid-range
      Ryokan Tori is located in Kyoto, 2 km from Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. The property is around 2.3 km from Nijo Castle and Kyoto Imperial Palace. The property is 3.2 km from Kinkaku-ji Temple and 3.7 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum. All guest rooms in the ryokan are fitted with a kettle. Each room has a shared bathroom, while selected rooms are fitted with a balcony and others also offer a garden view. All rooms will provide guests with a fridge. Guests at tori can enjoy an Asian breakfast. Heian Shrine is 5 km from the accommodation. Itami Airport is 50 km from the property.
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      Set in the Nakagyo Ward district in Kyoto, Kyonoyado Gekkoan offers an equipped accommodation with an balcony and free WiFi. The property is 1.1 km from Nijo Castle. This holiday home comes with a kitchenette with a microwave and a toaster, a flat-screen TV, a seating area and a bathroom with a bath. A vegetarian or continental breakfast is available daily at the property. Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.1 km from the holiday home. Osaka Itami Airport is 37 km from the property.
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    • Guesthouse Engawa
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      Guesthouse Engawa offers accommodation in Kyoto. Guests can relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of Kyoto in their rooms. Each comes with a flat-screen TV, and an electric kettle will be provided upon request. Bathroom facilities are shared with other guests. Free toiletries and hairdryers are also available. There is luggage storage space at the property. Kiyomizu-dera Temple is 600 metres from Guesthouse Engawa, while Heian Shrine is 2.4 km from the property. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 39 km from the property.
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    • Gallery Nozawa Inn
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    • Yado Kiramachi
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      Situated conveniently in Kyoto, Yado Kiramachi offers an Asian breakfast and free WiFi. The air-conditioned accommodation is 600 metres from Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with a terrace. Certain units in the ryokan have private entrance and are equipped with desk and wardrobe. The units have a private bathroom, while selected rooms will provide you with a balcony and others also have a garden view. At the ryokan, some units are soundproof. A bar can be found on-site. Guests can relax in the garden at the property. Kyoto International Manga Museum is 1.3 km from the ryokan, while Gion Shijo Station is 1.6 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 45 km from Yado Kiramachi.
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    • Guesthouse HANA Nishijin
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    • Hotel Muso
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      Well located in Kyoto, Hotel Muso provides 3-star accommodation close to Gion Shijo Station and Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall. The property is around 1.8 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto, 2 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum and 2.3 km from Kyoto Station. Providing free WiFi throughout the property, the non-smoking hotel features a hot tub. The hotel will provide guests with air-conditioned rooms with a desk, a coffee machine, a fridge, a safety deposit box, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with a bidet. Rooms come with a kettle, while selected rooms come with a kitchen with a microwave, a minibar and a stovetop. At Hotel Muso each room has bed linen and towels. Popular points of interest near the accommodation include Sanjusangen-do Temple, Samurai Kembu Kyoto and Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 45 km from Hotel Muso.
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