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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

    • 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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    • 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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    • 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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    • Guest House Oumi
      Budget-friendly
      Well set in the centre of Kyoto, Guest House Oumi provides air-conditioned rooms, a shared lounge, free WiFi and a garden. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with a terrace. The accommodation offers a shared kitchen and room service for guests. All units include a shared bathroom, slippers and bed linen. A continental breakfast is available daily at the guest house. Nijo Castle is less than 1 km from Guest House Oumi, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.2 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 48 km from the accommodation.
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    • Ryokan Mugen (Adult Only)
      Luxury
      Mugen is a property that was built 160 years ago, situated in Kyoto, 1 km from Nijo Castle. Every room at Mugen features an en suite shower room, toilet, free toiletries and a hairdryer. Free WiFi is available throughout the entire property. You will find a shared lounge on site and a bar at the annex building. The ryokan also offers bike hire. Imperial Palace is 1.1 km from Mugen, while Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is 1.6 km from the property. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 39 km from the property.
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    • GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station
      Luxury
      Situated in Kyoto, 1.5 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto and 2.7 km from the centre, GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station features air-conditioned accommodation with free WiFi, and a shared lounge. Each unit has a fully equipped kitchen with a microwave, a seating area, a flat-screen TV, a washing machine, and a private bathroom with bidet and slippers. A fridge and stovetop are also available, as well as a kettle. The aparthotel provides a laundry service, as well as business facilities like fax and photocopying. Sanjusangen-do Temple is 2.1 km from GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station, while Tofuku-ji Temple is 2.3 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 45 km from the accommodation.
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    • Hotel Muso
      Mid-range
      Well located in the Shimogyo Ward district of Kyoto, Hotel Muso is located 1.8 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple, 1.9 km from Samurai Kembu Kyoto and 2 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto. This 3-star hotel offers a concierge service and luggage storage space. The accommodation provides a hot tub, free WiFi throughout the property and family rooms. The rooms in the hotel are fitted with a coffee machine. Each room has a kettle and a private bathroom with a bidet and slippers, while selected rooms come with a kitchen equipped with a stovetop. Guest rooms will provide guests with air conditioning, a safety deposit box and a flat-screen TV. Kiyomizu-dera Temple is 2 km from Hotel Muso, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.2 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 48 km from the accommodation.
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    • Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie
      Luxury
      Ideally situated in the Shimogyo Ward district of Kyoto, Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie is situated 1.3 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum, 1.9 km from Samurai Kembu Kyoto and 2.3 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto. Among the facilities at this property are a 24-hour front desk and a concierge service, along with free WiFi throughout the property. The hotel has family rooms. The hotel will provide guests with air-conditioned rooms with a wardrobe, a kettle, a fridge, a safety deposit box, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with a bidet. At Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie the rooms have bed linen and towels. An American breakfast is available each morning at the accommodation. Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie offers a terrace. Shoren-in Temple is 2.7 km from the hotel, while Nijo Castle is 2.8 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 48 km from Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie.
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    • Kyono Mori Yurinsha
      Mid-range
      Set in Kyoto, 1.5 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple, Kyono Mori Yurinsha features a bar and views of the city. Among the facilities of this property are a restaurant, room service and luggage storage space, along with free WiFi. Local points of interest like Kyoto International Manga Museum and Shoren-in Temple are reachable within 2.6 km and 2.8 km, respectively. All guest rooms come with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV with cable channels, a microwave, a kettle, a shower, slippers and a desk. The rooms feature a private bathroom, a hairdryer and bed linen. Guests at the inn can enjoy a ? la carte or a vegetarian breakfast. Kyono Mori Yurinsha provides an ironing service, as well as business facilities like fax and photocopying. Popular points of interest near the accommodation include Kiyomizu-dera Temple, TKP Garden City Kyoto and Samurai Kembu Kyoto. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 47 km from Kyono Mori Yurinsha.
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    • Miru Kyoto Nishiki
      Mid-range
      Conveniently situated in the Nakagyo Ward district of Kyoto, Miru Kyoto Nishiki is located 1 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum, 1.8 km from Samurai Kembu Kyoto and 2.5 km from Nijo Castle. Among the facilities at this property are a 24-hour front desk and luggage storage space, along with free WiFi throughout the property. The property is 3 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto and 3.3 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple. The hotel will provide guests with air-conditioned rooms offering a desk, a kettle, a microwave, a fridge, a safety deposit box, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with a bidet. At Miru Kyoto Nishiki each room is equipped with bed linen and towels. Shoren-in Temple is 2.6 km from the accommodation, while Heian Shrine is 2.7 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 49 km from Miru Kyoto Nishiki.
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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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