07 Jul 2017 in Discover Japan
All July, Kyoto goes into festival mode! With giant floats, great food and sprawling street parties, Gion Matsuri is an event to put on your wish list.
The 1,100-year-old Gion Matsuri is one of Japan’s most famous and popular festivals – and with reason. During the entire month of July, the Gion area of Kyoto transforms into a site of celebration, hosting events ranging from the impressive to the inspiring.
The centrepiece of the festival is Yamaboko Junko, a grand procession of lavishly-decorated floats originally intended to appease the Gods and avert epidemics.
There are two types of float: the smaller and more numerous yama and the gigantic hoko, which are up to 25 metres tall, can weigh 12 tons and have wheels the size of a person! There’s no motor, so, as you can imagine, it takes considerable manpower to push the hoko along the 2-mile route.
On several evenings leading up to the parade, Kyoto’s centre is closed to traffic and transformed into a big street party. Depending on the date, these nights are known as yoiyama, yoiyoiyama or yoiyoiyoiyama – but the end result is always the same: a festive atmosphere with people dressed in yukatas, great street food, drink and music.
You’ll also have an opportunity to visit private residences, as many owners open up their homes to the public in what is known as Byobu Matsuri or Folding Screen Festival. It’s a great chance to take a peek inside a traditional Gion house and admire the family’s heirlooms.
Where to stay during the festival? At HOSHINOYA Kyoto, you’ll be able to lay back and relax with views of the river and forests – the perfect contrast after the buzz of Gion Matsuri!