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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.

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 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.

Getting there and around

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

How to get to and around Kyoto

Hours and Fees

Paid Seating

Paid seats line the parade route at the Kyoto Imperial Palace and at Shimogamo Shrine. Regular tickets cost 2700 yen. Seats that include English audio guides are available for 4300 yen at the Imperial Palace and can be purchased at the tourist information centers in Kyoto Station and on the 3rd floor of the Kyoto Tower building. Regular tickets (without audio guides) can be purchased at convenience stores. For a surcharge, tickets can also be purchased through travel reservation websites such as Rakuten.

At Kamigamo Shrine, paid seats cost 1000 yen and are sold only on the day of the festival, starting around noon.

Hotels around Kyoto

    • Arashiyama Hanaikada
      A little, superior ryokan right near Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashiyama. Free transfer from JR station. Private bath and open-air baths available. 5min walk to the Bamboo Groves.
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    • Ryokufuso
      A friendly Japanese hotel near Nishi Honganji temple. 5min by taxi from JR Kyoto Sta. Enjoy your stay with the Japanese room and communal baths. Free Wi-Fi & parking lot.
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    • Japanese hotel, Ryokan Nishiyama
      Experience the real Japan at our affordable ryokan. Close to major tourist spots in 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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    • Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS
      Budget-friendly
      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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    • Gallery Nozawa Inn
      Budget-friendly
      Gallery Nozawa Inn offers accommodation in Kyoto, 25 minutes on foot from JR Kyoto Station. Free WiFi is available throughout the property. Every room includes a flat-screen TV and air conditioning. Each room is equipped with a private toilet, and bathrooms are shared. For your comfort, you will find free toiletries and a hairdryer. There is luggage storage space at the property. Guests can sample Japanese-style breakfast featuring seasonal ingredients. There is a public bathhouse located a 10-minute walk away. Nijo Castle is 2.4 km from Gallery Nozawa Inn, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.4 km from the property. Osaka Itami Airport is 36 km away.
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    • Guest House Oumi
      Budget-friendly
      Well set in the centre of Kyoto, Guest House Oumi provides air-conditioned rooms, a garden, free WiFi and a shared lounge. This 2-star guest house offers a shared kitchen and room service. The property is non-smoking and is located 1.2 km from Nijo Castle. All units include a shared bathroom, free toiletries and bed linen. A continental breakfast is available daily at the guest house. Guest House Oumi offers a terrace. Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.2 km from the accommodation, while Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall is 2.9 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 46 km from Guest House Oumi.
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    • Hotel Muso
      Mid-range
      Located in the centre of Kyoto, less than 1 km from Gion Shijo Station, Hotel Muso provides air-conditioned rooms and free WiFi. This 3-star hotel offers a concierge service and luggage storage space. The property is non-smoking and is situated less than 1 km from Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall. Guest rooms at the hotel are equipped with a flat-screen TV and a safety deposit box. Each room has a coffee machine and a private bathroom with a bidet and free toiletries, while selected rooms come with a kitchen equipped with a stovetop. At Hotel Muso rooms come with bed linen and towels. The accommodation offers 3-star accommodation with a hot tub. Popular points of interest near Hotel Muso include Sanjusangen-do Temple, Samurai Kembu Kyoto and Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 45 km from the hotel.
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    • GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station
      Luxury
      Featuring 4-star accommodation, GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station is situated in Kyoto, 1.1 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto and 2.1 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple. With a shared lounge, the 4-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi, each with a private bathroom. The property is 2.7 km from the city centre and 1.1 km from Kyoto Station. All rooms are fitted with a fridge, microwave, a kettle, a bidet, free toiletries and a desk. At the hotel the rooms include bed linen and towels. GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station provides a laundry service, as well as business facilities like fax and photocopying. Languages spoken at the 24-hour front desk include English, Japanese, Korean and Filipino. Tofuku-ji Temple is 3 km from the accommodation, while Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall is 3.2 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 42 km from GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station.
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    • Kyono Mori Yurinsha
      Mid-range
      Featuring 3-star accommodation, Kyono Mori Yurinsha is set in Kyoto, 1.7 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple and 1 km from Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall. Among the facilities of this property are a restaurant, room service and luggage storage space, along with free WiFi. The property is 1.1 km from Gion Shijo Station, and within 1.7 km of the city centre. All guest rooms come with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV with cable channels, a fridge, a kettle, a shower, free toiletries and a desk. Featuring a private bathroom with a bath and a hairdryer, rooms at the inn also have a city view. At Kyono Mori Yurinsha all rooms have bed linen and towels. A ? la carte, continental or vegetarian breakfast can be enjoyed at the property. The accommodation provides an ironing service, as well as business facilities like fax and photocopying. Popular points of interest near Kyono Mori Yurinsha include Kiyomizu-dera Temple, TKP Garden City Kyoto and Samurai Kembu Kyoto. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 45 km from the inn.
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    • BenTen Residences
      Luxury
      BenTen Residences offer a Japanese machiya accommodation in the heart of Higashiyama, Kyoto. Yasaka Shrine is 7 minutes on foot, while Kiyomizu Temple is a 14-minute stroll. BenTen Residences was featured as 1 of the Top 10 vacation homes in 2017 by Dwell. Free WiFi access is provided throughout the entire property. Coming with heated flooring, the accommodation features a Western bedroom and two Japanese-style rooms with tatami (woven-straw) flooring and futon bedding. There are also a living area and kitchenette. Guests will also find a bath with a view of little garden and 2 toilets. For an additional fee, the concierge service is available to create bespoke itineraries and assist guests with arranging cultural experiences, restaurant reservations and airport shuttle. Car and bicycle rental can also be arranged. Gion District is a 7-minute walk from BenTen Residences, while Heian Shrine is an 8-minute drive away. JR Kyoto Station is 20 minutes by car. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 38.6 km from BenTen Residences and Kansai International Airport is 80 km.
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    • Nagi Kyoto Shijo
      Luxury
      Offering air-conditioned rooms in the Nakagyo Ward district of Kyoto, Nagi Kyoto Shijo is 1.4 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum. Among the facilities at this property are a 24-hour front desk and room service, along with free WiFi throughout the property. The rooms include a balcony. At the hotel, the rooms have a wardrobe. At Nagi Kyoto Shijo all rooms have a desk, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. Nijo Castle is 1.8 km from Nagi Kyoto Shijo, while TKP Garden City Kyoto is 2.6 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 47 km from the hotel.
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    • Ryokan Shimizu
      Budget-friendly
      About a 7-minute walk from JR Kyoto Train Station and a 3-minute walk to Nishi-Hongan-ji Temple, Ryokan Shimizu is a non-smoking property that provides air-conditioned Japanese rooms with free Wi-Fi and a private bathroom. Rental bicycles are available at an additional charge. Guests at Shimizu Ryokan can experience traditional Japanese-style sleeping arrangements, with futon bedding on a tatami (woven-straw) floor. Rooms include a TV, a fridge and a tea maker. The en suite bath has toiletries. Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple is a 5-minute walk away, while Gojo Subway Station is a 10-minute walk. Sanjusangen-do Temple is 2 km away. On-site parking is possible, for a fee. Housed in a traditional gmachiya-zukurih building, the hotel includes a small garden and a hot bath that can be reserved for private use.
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    • Hostel Sui Kyoto
      Budget-friendly
      In a prime location in Kyoto, Hostel Sui Kyoto provides air-conditioned rooms, a shared lounge, free WiFi and a terrace. The property is located 1.2 km from Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, 1.8 km from Kinkaku-ji Temple and 2.4 km from Kyoto Imperial Palace. Private parking is available on site. The capsule hotel features certain units that include a safety deposit box, and every room is fitted with a shared bathroom with a bidet and a hairdryer. At Hostel Sui Kyoto the rooms are fitted with bed linen and towels. Nijo Castle is 2.7 km from the accommodation, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 3.9 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 48 km from Hostel Sui Kyoto.
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