Tips for KYOTO

May 15th, Elegance of an imperial procession

Aoi Matsuri Festival

The Aoi Matsuri Festival, held on May 15th every year, is one of Kyoto’s three largest festivals along with the Gion Matsuri Festival and Jidai Matsuri Festival.  This is one of the rare examples of a national festival that retains the traditions of Japan’s ancient imperial culture.

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Important Events of the Aoi Matsuri Festival  

Pre-rituals

Shimogamo Jinja Shrine

Yabusame Shinji: May 3rd

Yabusame is a ritual which is performed to purify the route followed by the festival’s procession.  Riders dressed in traditional costumes shoot arrows at a target while the horse is galloping at full speed along the turf in the Tadasu no Mori Forest.

Busha Shinji: May 5th

This ancient ritual takes place before the main festival to ward off evil spirits with bows and arrows.  Contrary to the Yabusame Shinji in which arrows are shot from horse back, people shoot arrows from the ground in this ritual.

Mikage Matsuri: May 6th

The sacred spirit of this festival is welcomed to Shimogamo Jinja Shrine prior to the main festival.  The Kirishiba no Gi Ritual, which expresses the joy of welcoming the sacred spirit, is performed in the Tadasu no Mori Forest.  Elegant Japanese dance and music known as Azuma Asobi is performed.

Kamigamo Jinja Shrine

Kurabe Uma-e Ashizoroe Shiki: May 1st

Prior to the Kurabe Uma Shinji on the 5th, the age and condition of the horses are checked and the race line up for the event on the 5th is decided.

Saio-dai Nyonin Retsu Misogi no Shinji: May 4th

The Saio-dai (Reigning Festival Queen) and her 40 female servants take part in a sacred purification ritual.  This event takes place at Kamigamo Jinja Shrine and Shimogamo Jinja Shrine by rotation annually.  The Saio-dai is chosen from amongst the general female public every year.  Dressed in juni-hitoe (Heian-period imperial costume), the Saio soaks her hands in the shrine’s stream and purifies herself.

Kurabe Uma-e Shinji: May 5th

Two horses race against each other, with one starting one horse length closer to the finishing line.  The former horse wins if the gap between the two horses grows while the latter wins when the gap diminishes.  Kamigamo Jinja Shrine is the birthplace of Japan’s horse racing.

Roto no Gi

Prior to the Shato no Gi (see below), delegates from the imperial court visit both Shimogamo Jinja and Kamogamo Jinja Shrines and dedicate sacred offerings and prayer to the deities.  Costumes worn by the imperial delegates, guards, imperial officers along with the oxen carts, large umbrellas and the Saio-dai are perfect reproductions of those worn during the Heian Period (794-1185).  Over 500 people, 36 horses, 4 oxen, 2 carts and 1 palanquin take part in the approximately 8-km long route followed by this procession of Heian-style imperial elegance.

Shato no Gi

When the procession reaches both shrines, a ritual is held in front of the shrine hall.  The imperial delegate chants a prayer and presents sacred offerings to the deity.  In the elegant atmosphere of the Heian-period, a sacred horse performance and ancient dance by shrine maidens take place.

Fujin-gaho,June issue,2013 Published on 14.06.23

Translation to English by AD BRAIN INC. Published on 14.06.23

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