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Festivals of Japan: Kyoto Aoi Matsuri

The Aoi Matsuri in Kyoto is a festival full of elegance and tradition that dates from the 6th century.

By 3 min read

The Aoi Matsuri (葵祭) in Kyoto is a festival full of elegance and tradition that dates from the 6th century. It is regarded as one of Kyoto’s three most famous festivals along with the Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri. The festival takes place every May 15 and is a festival of the two kamo shrines in the north of Kyoto, Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine. The festival is also known as the Kamo Matsuri due to its association with the shrines.

Why is it called the Aoi Matsuri?

It is simple really, Aoi is Japanese for Hollyhock, and Hollyhock leaves are traditionally used as decorations throughout the celebration. The festival started as a way to appease the gods after a severe storm destroyed the harvest. Hollyhock was also believed to protect against natural disasters and hence it choice as a decoration for the festival.

Festival Highlights

The Aoi Matsuri gives you the chance to see traditional aristocratic costumes and styles of a by-gone era of Japanese history, at a festival that dates back more than 1,000 years, making it one of the world’s oldest festivals.
The highlight of the festival is the parade through the main streets of Kyoto with the participants decked-out in ancient costumes and traditional make-up from the Heian Period (794 – 1185). Watching this festival you will almost feel like you have slipped back in time to the age of beauty and elegance.


The Aoi Matsuri starts at the southern gate of Kyoto’s Imperial Palace at 10:30 am with the parade slowly working its way to the Kamo Shrines, the festival’s host shrines. The festival crosses the river in front of Shimogamo Shrine at 11:15 am with ceremonies performed at the shrine for about two hours. The procession then departs for Kamigamo Shrine with the head of the parade arriving at around 3:30 pm.

There are two main figures that feature in the Aoi Matsuri: the Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger. The Saiō-Dai was traditionally a young female member of the Imperial family chosen to perform rituals and acts as the representative of the Emperor at the festival. The Imperial Messenger leads the festival procession on horseback.

Paid seating is available at the Imperial Palace and both Kamo Shrines, as well as along the parade route. It is advised to arrive early if you want to see the parade at the Imperial Palace and Kamo Shrines and do not intend to reserve a seat.

Location: Kyoto
When: Friday, May 15
Time: The procession leaves Kyoto Imperial Palace at 10:30 am
Cost: Paid Seating available and can be purchased at Lawson/Mini Stop Convenience Stores as well as Travel Agents. You can view the festival FREE but arrive early if you do not want a paid seat to beat the crowds


The Kyoto Imperial Palace is located 5 minutes’ walk from Imadegawa Station. You can reach Imadegawa Station by taking the Karasuma Subway Line from JR Kyoto Station.

Shimogamo Shrine is located about 5 minutes’ walk from Shimogamo-jinja mae bus stop. Take either a No.4 or No. 205 Kyoto City Bus from JR Kyoto Station.

Kamigamo Shrine is located close to Kamigamo-jinja mae bus stop. Take the No. 4 Kyoto City Bus from JR Kyoto Station. The trip is around 30 minutes.

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