May is the perfect time to visit Kyoto, thanks to the warming temperatures. There are festivals where you can enjoy nature and traditional culture then, and here are 5 of them to consider.
1. Aoi Matsuri
Aoi Matsuri is an annual festival held on May 15 at Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine and was historically called Kamo Matsuri. It is a traditional festival with a long history dating back about 1400 years, and it was so famous around the 10th century that if an aristocrat said "festival" he meant Aoi Matsuri. Because Aoi Matsuri was held as a national event starting from the 9th century, it passes on traditions from ancient dynasties to this day. A variety of sacred events are held at Aoi Matsuri, and among them, the "Roto-no-gi" procession of ox carts and people clad in Heian Period costumes along an 8km road between Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine is particularly interesting. The approximately 1km-long procession of 500+ people has the splendor of a picture scroll from the dynastic periods and is a site to behold. Be sure not to miss this once in a year chance to see it!
2. Mifune Matsuri
Mifune Matsuri is held every year on the third Sunday of May as an extension of an annual festival held at Kurumazaki Shrine in Sagano. It is a relatively new festival that was started in 1928 to commemorate the ascension of Emperor Showa. At the festival, a 12th century boat party attended by Kiyohara no Yorinari, who is enshrined at Kurumazaki Shrine, is reenacted. On the day of the festival, a ritual called "Odemashi-no-gi" is held at Kurumazaki Shrine, followed by a procession to transfer a shintai from the shrine to the Ooi River, and an event with a variety of traditional performances on boats with mythical dragons and bird heads on the bow. The most popular performance is the floating of the folding fans. The elegant sight of "Heisei Period Princesses," chosen from the public for the festival, and geisha setting the fans adrift is a must see. If you're lucky, you may be able to pick up one of the fans that reach the shore.
*The 2017 Mifune Matsuri will be held on May 21.
Fujinomori Shrine, known as the birthplace of Shobuno Sekku festival for boys, is a historic shrine dating back 1800 years. Shobu, the Japanese word for iris, has the same pronunciation as the word for a match (literally, victory-defeat), and Fujinomori Shrine has long been worshiped as a shrine for luck at winning and for horses. Fujinomorisai, which is held from May 1 to 5 every year, is also called Fukakusa Matsuri and is a festival with a long history dating back to the mid-9th century. A variety of events including rituals and warrior processions are held during the festival period, with the most amazing one being the "Kakeuma Shinji," where horsemen called "noriko" gallop down a 180m-long horse-riding area set up in the shrine's path while exhibiting riding techniques that have been passed down in the shrine. Don't miss the amazing skills of the horses and riders that have been registered as an intangible folk cultural property by the City of Kyoto. *Kakeuma Shinji will be held at 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm on May 5th.
4. Shunki Konpira Taisai
Yasui Konpiragu in Higashiyama is famous as a shrine that helps to break off bad relationships and initiate good ones. It is said that one can break off a bad relationship by passing through the crack in the middle of the power stone monument on the shrine grounds from the front, and attain a good one by passing through it from the back, followed by placing a substitution charm on the stone and praying. On May 5th, the great spring festival of Shunki Konpira Taisai is held. After the Great Festival Ceremony at the main inner sanctuary, a goma altar is set up in front of the power stone monument in order to ceremonially burn the votive wooden sticks with worshipers' wishes written on them. A space for tea ceremonies and various stalls are also set up to entertain the visitors.
*The Great Festival Ceremony is held at 11:30 am and the Goma Ritual at 1:00 pm.
5. Saga Matsuri
Saga Matsuri, a festival that marks the spring in Kyoto, is held at Atago Shrine and Nonomiya Shrine on the third and fourth Saturdays of May. On the third Saturday, a ritual called Shinkosai, where the deity enshrined in the main shrine is placed in a palanquin and carried to an "otabisho" (a place where the deities rest/stay during a parade), is held, and on the fourth Saturday, a Kankosai, where the deity returns to the shrine is held. During the Kankosai, the five "kenboko" ceremonial apparatus including Ryuboko and Kirinboko, and the two palanquins from Atago Shrine and Nonomiya Shrine, are carried around Arashiyama, accompanied by dancers in traditional lion costumes and a procession of infants. The kenboko is spun around to dispel evil and cleanse the way in a movement called "kensashi," which is well worth seeing. Saga Matsuri is the final major festival in May so be sure not to miss it!
There are numerous festivals that enliven the fresh spring days of May, so please check them out. They are sure to become wonderful memories of your travels.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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