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Aoi Festival
The Picturesque Heian Period Procession

The Aoi Festival is one of the three largest and most important festivals in Kyoto (the two others are Gion Festival in July and Jidai Festival in October). It is an annual festival dedicated to both the deities of Shimogamo and Kamigamo Shrine. Since the Heian period, the festival has been so highly respected that it was regarded as an important national event which even the Japanese Imperial family members took part in.

The events official name is the Kamo Festival and was started in the mid-6th century by order of Emperor Kinmei (539-571) as a ceremonial attempt to end a serious famine at that time. Aoi are the hollyhock leaves which decorate everything in the procession from the carts to the cows pulling the carts.

The highlight is the huge, elegant procession on May 15th. People dressed in the Heianperiod classic costumes parade through the city. The procession consists of more than 500 people, 36 horses, 4 oxen and two oxcarts.

In the Roto-no-gi Ritual procession, departing from the Imperial Palace, the imperial messengers accompanied by police officers, clerk officers, the delegate of the Yamashiro Province, cow carriages, a gorgeously decorated giant umbrella and Saio-dai - an imperial princess, altogether form a procession recreating the Heian court nobles as they appeared in those days. This elegant 8-km procession proceeds to Kamigamo Shrine via Shimogamo Shrine.

*Aoi Festival viewing seat ticket is available at Kyoto Tourist Information Center (KYO Navi & Kyoto City Tourism Association). 2,700 yen for a reserved seat in Kyoto Imperial Park & Shimogamo Shrine. 3,700 yen for a reserved seat with English earphone guide (Imperial Park only); *Ticket is non-refundable as the festival is postponed in the case of bad weather.

Important Pre-festival Events

May 1: At Kamigamo Shrine
Kamokurabe Uma-e Ashizoroe Ceremony

From 13:00, prior to the Kurabe Uma Shinji on the 5th, the condition horses' condition is checked and the race line up for the event on the 5th is decided.

May 3: At Shimogamo Shrine
Yabusame Shinji

From 13:00, riders dressed in traditional costumes shoot arrows at a target while galloping at full speed.

May 4: At Kamigamo Shrine
Saio-dai Misogi Purification Ritual

From 10:00, the Saio-dai (reigning festival queen) is chosen, and then she and her 50 servants undergo a sacred purification ritual.

May 5: At Kamigamo Shrine
Kamo Kurabe Uma

From 10:00. This ritual originated in the Imperial court; Horses for the festival are purified, and pairs of horses compete for speed.

May 5: At Shimogamo Shrine
Busha Shinji

From 11:00, this ancient ritual takes place before the main festival; Priests use bows and arrows to ward off evil spirits; Other arrow shooting rituals are also held.

May 12: At Shimogamo Shrine
Mikage Festival

From 9:30, the sacred spirit of this festival is welcomed to Shimogamo Shrine prior to the main festival; At 16:00, elegant Japanese dance and music is performed.