Aoi Matsuri

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The Aoi Matsuri (Festival) in Kyoto, departing from Kyoto's Imperial Gardens Aoi Matsuri.jpg
The Aoi Matsuri (Festival) in Kyoto, departing from Kyoto's Imperial Gardens
Man carrying a hollyhock float Aoix2.jpg
Man carrying a hollyhock float

The Aoi Matsuri(葵祭), or "Hollyhock Festival," is one of the three main annual festivals held in Kyoto, Japan, the other two being the Festival of the Ages (Jidai Matsuri) and the Gion Festival. It is a festival of the two Kamo shrines in the north of the city, Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine. The festival may also be referred to as the Kamo Festival. It is held on 15 May of each year.

Japanese festivals traditional festive occasions of Japan and Shinto

Japanese festivals are traditional festive occasions. Some festivals have their roots in Chinese festivals centuries ago, but have undergone great changes as they mixed with local customs.

Kyoto Designated city in Kansai, Japan

Kyoto, officially Kyoto City, is the capital city of Kyoto Prefecture, located in the Kansai region of Japan. For over a thousand years, Kyoto was the former Imperial capital of Japan but is now a major part of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area.

<i>Jidai Matsuri</i>

The Jidai Matsuri is a traditional Japanese festival held annually on October 22 in Kyoto, Japan. It is one of Kyoto's renowned three great festivals, with the other two being the Aoi Matsuri, held annually on May 15, and the Gion Matsuri, which is held annually from 17 to July 24. It is a festival enjoyed by people of all ages, participating in its historical reenactment parade dressed in authentic costumes representing various periods, and characters in Japanese feudal history.



Saio Dai leaving Kyoto Emperor's palace Saio dai Roto-nogi 20160515.JPG
Saio Dai leaving Kyoto Emperor's palace

According to the ancient, presumed historical and regarded as accurate with some fantastic embellishments, record Nihon Shoki , the festival originated during the reign of Emperor Kinmei (reigned CE 539 - 571). The ancient records known as the Honchō getsurei (本朝月令) and Nenchūgyōji hissho (年中行事秘抄) reveal that a succession of disastrous rains with high winds ruined the grain crops, and epidemics had spread through the country. Because diviners placed the cause on divine punishment by the Kamo deities, the Emperor sent his messenger with a retinue to the shrine to conduct various acts to appease the deities, in prayer for a bountiful harvest. These included riding a galloping horse. [1]

<i>Nihon Shoki</i> 720 Book by Prince Toneri and Ō no Yasumaro

The Nihon Shoki (日本書紀), sometimes translated as The Chronicles of Japan, is the second-oldest book of classical Japanese history. The book is also called the Nihongi. It is more elaborate and detailed than the Kojiki, the oldest, and has proven to be an important tool for historians and archaeologists as it includes the most complete extant historical record of ancient Japan. The Nihon Shoki was finished in 720 under the editorial supervision of Prince Toneri and with the assistance of Ō no Yasumaro dedicated to Empress Genshō.

Emperor Kinmei Emperor of Japan

Emperor Kinmei was the 29th Emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.

Kamo Shrine Shinto shrines in Kyoto, Japan

Kamo Shrine is a general term for an important Shinto sanctuary complex on both banks of the Kamo River in northeast Kyoto. It is centered on two shrines. The two shrines, an upper and a lower, lie in a corner of the old capital which was known as the "devil's gate" due to traditional geomancy beliefs that the north-east corner brought misfortune. Because the Kamo River runs from the north-east direction into the city, the two shrines along the river were intended to prevent demons from entering the city.

This became an annual ritual, and the galloping horse performance developed into an equestrian archery performance. According to the historical record known as the Shoku Nihongi (続日本記), so many people had come to view this equestrian performance on the festival day in the 2nd year of the reign of Emperor Monmu (r. 697–707) that the event was banned. [1]


Yabusame (流鏑馬) is a type of mounted archery in traditional Japanese archery. An archer on a running horse shoots three special "turnip-headed" arrows successively at three wooden targets.

<i>Shoku Nihongi</i> 797 Book by Fujiwara no Tsuginawa

The Shoku Nihongi (続日本紀) is an imperially commissioned Japanese history text. Completed in 797, it is the second of the Six National Histories, coming directly after the Nihon Shoki and followed by Nihon Kōki. Fujiwara no Tsugutada and Sugano no Mamichi served as the primary editors. It is one of the most important primary historical sources for information about Japan's Nara period.

Emperor Monmu Emperor of Japan

Emperor Monmu was the 42nd emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.

In the ninth century, Emperor Kanmu established the seat of the imperial throne in Kyoto. This represented the beginning of the Heian period in Japanese history. Emperor Kanmu recognized the deities of the Kamo shrines as protectors of the Heian capital, and established the Aoi Matsuri as an annual imperial event. [2]

Emperor Kanmu Emperor of Japan

Emperor Kammu was the 50th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. Kammu reigned from 781 to 806.

Chrysanthemum Throne Throne of the Emperor of Japan

The Chrysanthemum Throne is the throne of the Emperor of Japan. The term also can refer to very specific seating, such as the Takamikura (高御座) throne in the Shishin-den at Kyoto Imperial Palace.

Heian period last major division of classical Japanese history (794 to 1185), named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto

The Heian period is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height. The Heian period is also considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court and noted for its art, especially poetry and literature. Although the Imperial House of Japan had power on the surface, the real power was in the hands of the Fujiwara clan, a powerful aristocratic family who had intermarried with the imperial family. Many emperors actually had mothers from the Fujiwara family. Heian (平安) means "peace" in Japanese.

The festival saw its peak of grandeur in the middle of the Heian Period, but this waned in the Kamakura period and the following Muromachi period, and as the nation entered the Sengoku period, the festival procession was discontinued. In the Genroku era (1688–1704) of the Edo period, it was revived, but in the 2nd year of the Meiji period (1869), when the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, observance of the festival procession stopped. In Meiji-17 (1885), it was again revived as part of a government plan to enliven Kyoto. All but the rituals at the shrine fronts were discontinued from 1944, due to World War II. At last, the festival procession started to be held again from 1953. The Saiō-Dai festival princess tradition was initiated in 1956. [3]

Kamakura period period of Japanese history

The Kamakura period is a period of Japanese history that marks the governance by the Kamakura shogunate, officially established in 1192 in Kamakura by the first shōgun, Minamoto no Yoritomo. The period is known for the emergence of the samurai, the warrior caste, and for the establishment of feudalism in Japan.

Muromachi period division of Japanese history running from approximately 1336 to 1573

The Muromachi period is a division of Japanese history running from approximately 1336 to 1573. The period marks the governance of the Muromachi or Ashikaga shogunate, which was officially established in 1338 by the first Muromachi shōgun, Ashikaga Takauji, two years after the brief Kenmu Restoration (1333–36) of imperial rule was brought to a close. The period ended in 1573 when the 15th and last shogun of this line, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, was driven out of the capital in Kyoto by Oda Nobunaga.

Sengoku period Period in Imperial Japan

The Sengoku period is a period in Japanese history marked by social upheaval, political intrigue and near-constant military conflict. Japanese historians named it after the otherwise unrelated Warring States period in China. It was initiated by the Ōnin War, which collapsed the Japanese feudal system under the Ashikaga shogunate, and came to an end when the system was re-established under the Tokugawa shogunate by Tokugawa Ieyasu.

The festival has been called Aoi festival for the hollyhock leaves used as decoration throughout the celebration. These leaves were once believed to protect against natural disasters. [4]

Festival events

Saio-Dai and women parade Saio Dai and Women parade 2015.JPG
Saiō-Dai and women parade

There are two parts to Aoi Matsuri: the procession and the shrine rites. [4] The procession is led by the Imperial Messenger. Following the imperial messenger are: two oxcarts, four cows, thirty-six horses, and six hundred people, [4] all of which are dressed in traditional Heian period apparel decorated with aoi leaves. [4] The procession starts at 10:30 on May 15 and leaves the Kyoto Imperial Palace and slowly works its way towards the Shimogamo shrine and finally the Kamigamo shrine. [5] When they finally arrive at both shrines, the Saiō-Dai and Imperial Messenger perform their rituals. The Saiō-Dai simply pays her respects to the deities and the Imperial Messenger intones the imperial rescript praising the deities and requesting their continued favor. [5]

There are two main figures in the Aoi Matsuri: the Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger. [2] The Saiō-Dai is a woman who is chosen from the sisters and daughters of the Emperor to dedicate herself to the Shimogamo shrine. The role of Saiō-Dai was to maintain ritual purity and to represent the Emperor at the festival. Now, the role of the Saiō-Dai is played by an unmarried woman in Kyoto. [2] She is dressed in the traditional style of the Heian court. Traditional Heian court dress for women would be wearing several layers of exquisitely colored silk robes. [6] The Saiō-Dai wears twelve layers of the traditional style robes (jūnihitoe). [7] To maintain ritual purity, the Saiō-Dai goes through several ceremonies of purification before the procession of the festival. The Imperial Messenger leads the festival procession on horseback. [2] During the Heian period he would be a Fifth-Rank courtier holding the office of middle or lesser captain and was usually a man destined for high office. [5] His role was to read the imperial rescript of the shrines and present the emperor’s offerings. [5] During the Heian period, the Saiō-Dai and the Imperial messenger would be accompanied by ten dancers and twelve musicians. [5]

Also featured at the Kamo no matsuri are horse races (kurabe-uma), [8] and demonstrations of mounted archery (yabusame). [9]

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Kamo clan is a Japanese sacerdotal kin group which traces its roots from a Yayoi period shrine in the vicinity of northeastern Kyoto. The clan rose to prominence during the Asuka and Heian periods when the Kamo are identified with the 7th-century founding of the Kamo Shrine.


  1. 1 2
  2. 1 2 3 4 Aoi, 2007
  3. Kyoto Shimbun web page about the Aoi Festival (Japanese) Archived April 17, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  4. 1 2 3 4 Frang, 2002
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Shively, 1999
  6. Layered, 1995
  7. (Shimogamo, 2009)
  8. "Kurabe-uma," Encyclopedia of Shinto; n.b., this link incorporates streaming video of a horse race at Kamo Shrine.
  9. "Aoi matsuri," Kyoto City Tourism and Culture Information System.

Works cited