Mao Goto is a Japanese freelancer who was born in Hayama, Kanagawa prefecture and raised in Tokyo. Since 2016 she lives in the Taito Ward, home to a lot of Japanese culture hotspots such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ueno. She has been interested in the field of English education in Japan and got her Master’s degree in March 2020. A lover of photography, travel, sweets, and cross-stitch. Contact her via Facebook.
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Kyoto, once the capital of Japan before the seat of power was transferred to Tokyo, traces of Kyoto’s history as the country’s most important city remain strong even today. Kyoto is home to countless shrines and temples, and exhilarating festivals are held in many different places throughout the year. If your visit coincides with one of Kyoto’s many festivals, you’re in luck! Join in on the fun together with the locals and enjoy experiencing Japanese culture up close. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of Kyoto’s best festivals that you should definitely not miss out on if you happen to be in town.
- 1. Aoi Festival
- 2. Gion Festival
- 3. Ouka Festival
- 4. Jidai Festival
- 5. Setsubun Festival
- 6. Kurama Fire Festival
- 7. Toka Ebisu Festival
- 8. Gozan Okuribi (Daimonji Fire Festival)
- 9. Yamashina Gishi Festival
- 10. Kifune Festival
- Japan Wonder Travel Tours in Kyoto
- Other articles you might be interested in
1. Aoi Festival
Aoi Festival is held every summer and has a long history of more than 1,500 years. During this festival, visitors can see a procession of people dressed in traditional attire worn by aristocrats and the imperial family during the Heian period. Don’t forget your camera as there will surely be many great photo opportunities here!
When: May 15
2. Gion Festival
In the sweltering heat of July, Kyoto’s local communities come alive for the Gion Festival. The Gion Festival has a history of more than 1,100 years and is said to have originated from Gion Goryoe, a festival where people prayed to be spared from the plagues that spread during the Heian period. The festival features many floats decorated with traditional Japanese dolls as well as gold and silver ornaments, and they are truly a sight to behold. Many portable shrines are also carried through town, and Kyoto comes alive with an energetic festival spirit.
When: Throughout July
Website: Gion Festival
3. Ouka Festival
Ouka Festival is held every year on April 10 at Hirano Shrine in Kyoto when it’s surrounded by the color of cherry blossoms. It is said that the origin of the festival dates back to the time when Emperor Hanayama visited Hirano Shrine to pray for the prosperity of his descendants and a temporary imperial festival was held on this occasion. Rows of people dressed up as princesses from the Heian period and warriors on horseback walk along the pathway under clouds of delicate cherry blossoms, making for an unforgettable sight.
When: April 10
Website: Ouka Festival (Japanese only)
4. Jidai Festival
The Jidai Festival first took place in 1895 to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of the transfer of the capital, and it’s now held annually on October 22 at Heian Shrine. About 2,000 citizens, dressed in costumes from the Enryaku period (the era during which ancient Kyoto was constructed) to the Meiji Restoration period, form a procession and walk around the streets of Kyoto. The procession is a rare opportunity to see the different clothing styles of each period and will surely be extra thrilling for history buffs.
When: October 22
Website: Jidai Festival
5. Setsubun Festival
Setsubun is an annual event where soybeans are thrown at people dressed up as oni, Japanese demons. However, the Setsubun Festival held at Yoshida Shrine in Kyoto is different. During this Setsubun event, the “Tsuina Ceremony” (also known as oniyarai) is held. Instead of soybeans, the person driving away the oni holds a shield and a spear to scare off the red, blue and yellow demons and wish for good health and fortune for the year to come. The festival is hugely popular and attracts around 500,000 people every year, so join in and have fun at this powerful spectacle!
When: February 3
6. Kurama Fire Festival
Kurama Fire Festival takes place at night on October 22 every year at Yuki-jinja Shrine. Men wearing fundoshi, Japanese loincloths, parade through the town of Kurama holding torches which shine brightly in the dark. Kurama Fire Festival is a lively festival which is not to be missed if you happen to visit Kyoto in autumn!
When: October 22
7. Toka Ebisu Festival
The Toka Ebisu Festival takes place at Kyoto’s Ebisu Shrine, and many people attend the festival to seek good fortune since it’s held to pray for prosperous business. Held annually in the first half of January, lucky bamboo branches are used to pray for prosperous business and family fortunes during this festival. One recommended event is “Hoe Kago Shasan” (宝恵かご社参) in which an actress wearing a beautiful Japanese costume from the Toei Movie Village rides around town in a red and white basket, distributing kitcho bamboos to shops, department stores and other businesses. If you want your business to be successful, you should definitely visit the Toka Ebisu Festival and try to get your hands on some kitcho bamboos!
When: January 8 – 12
Website: Toka Ebisu Festival
8. Gozan Okuribi (Daimonji Fire Festival)
Every year in mid-August, it’s time for one of Kyoto’s best summer festivals: the Gozan Okuribi (Daimonji Fire Festival). The Gozan Okuribi is a historical festival held to see off the spirits, who have returned to their homes during obon, to the afterworld. The festival features five bonfires which are lit at different times. It’s a wonderful traditional festival that beautifully illuminates the hot summer nights of Kyoto with its crackling fires.
Website: Gozan Okuribi
9. Yamashina Gishi Festival
Yamashina in Kyoto is home to many historical sites related to samurai warriors and is also known as the hiding place of Yoshio Oishi, the central figure in a famous story called “Ako Roshi” about the loyalty of Japanese samurai. Even today “Ako Roshi” is still performed as kabuki under the title “Chushingura”. The Yamashina Gishi Festival is held to honor the 47 warriors who accompanied Yoshio Oishi when he defeated his enemy, a corrupt deputy, and citizens dress up in samurai clothing and go to Oishi Shrine. A reenactment of the event is held as well, making this a true live period drama. Come and watch the brave Japanese warriors fighting loyally for their master at this festival!
When: December 14
Website: Yamashina Gishi Festival (Japanese only)
10. Kifune Festival
There are more than 2,000 Kifune shrines in Japan, but Kifune Shrine in Kyoto is the main one, and Kifune Festival is held here when early summer arrives in June. During the Kifune Festival, a beautiful mikoshi (portable shrine) with gorgeous gold ornaments is carried down the approach to the shrine and around town, watched by the many spectators. The Izumo kagura (Shinto music and dance) performance that follows the portable shrine is not to be missed as performers wearing noh masks put on an amazing show to liven up the festival.
When: June 1
Website: Kifune Festival
Festivals are held in Kyoto throughout the year, so with a little luck you’ll be able to attend one when you’re in town. Recently, some festivals have been canceled due to covid-19, so make sure to check the official website in advance to see whether the festival will take place or not. Which of the 10 festivals above would you like to experience during your stay in Kyoto?
Japan Wonder Travel Tours in Kyoto
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If you’re looking to learn more about the culture and the local cuisine of Kyoto, this is the perfect tour for you! Take part in this Kyoto food and drink tour and explore the 400-year-old market and the famous Gion district.
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