The “Aoi Matsuri”, a travel through time and space: Reproducing the nobility of the Heian Period in Japan

Aoi Festival is one of the three major festivals of Kyoto that is held on May 15 every year.

It was originally known as the Kamo Festival, but the carriages and carts that brought Imperials and the contributor to the festival were all decorated with Aoi leaves, hence the name was changed to Aoi Festival. Having a history of more than 1000 years, the Aoi Festival is an elegant festival that was meant for the nobilities. On the 15th May, 500 people dressed like aristocrats in the Heian Period (794-1185), form a long line and march from Kyoto Imperial Palace to Shimogamo shrine, and then to Kamigamo shrine.

History of Aoi Festival

During the latter part of the 6th century the Kofun Period, Emperor Kinme was grieved by the plague and famine that had hit Kyoto. In order to appease the Kamo deities, the Emperor ordered the festival “deities of duck” to be held, and that is how Aoi Festival came to be. Ever since the forming of the festival, the Aoi Festival is continuously held until the present day. The Aoi Festival that is held in Shimogamo shrine and Kamigamo shrine is the same festival as the elegant and large festival that was held in the Heian Period.

Aoi Festival’s ceremonies and highlights

The Aoi Festival roughly divided to three events, the Imperial court’s ritual, the procession, and the Shrine head’s ritual. Currently, the Imperial court’s ritual is skipped, and due to the popularity of the procession, the Shrine head’s ritual is pretty much only known to the people taking part in the ritual.

The highlights of the Aoi Festival is the procession, with a long line beginning with the Imperial messenger, followed by inspectors, internal members, members from the Yamashiro, cow carriages, flower umbrella, the Shogunate, and the Heian aristocrats.

There is about 500 people dressed in Heian aristocrats, 36 horses, 4 cows, 2 oxcarts, and a shrine all led by an Imperial messenger leaving from the Kyoto Imperial Palace at 10:30am on the 15th of May heading towards Shimogamo Shrine, performing the ritual at 1:30pm and then head towards Kamigamo shrine, performing the Shrine head’s ritual at 3.30pm.

Spot Information

  • Name: Kyoto Aoi Festival (京都葵祭)
  • Location: Kyoto Imperial Palace → Shimogamo shrine → Kamigamo shrine
  • Date: 15th May every year
  • Access:
    • Kyoto Imperial Palace: 5-minute walk from Subway Karasuma line’s Imadegawa station
    • Shimogamo shrine: Get on the Kyoto city bus #4 or #205 and get off at “Shimogamo jinja mae” or “Tadasunori mae”.
    • Kamigamo shrine: Get on the Kyoto city bus #4 and get off at “Kamigamo jinja mae”.


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