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Gion Matsuri Guide (July 2024): Access and Tips on Enjoying One of Japan's Three Great Festivals in Kyoto

Gion Matsuri Guide (July 2024): Access and Tips on Enjoying One of Japan's Three Great Festivals in Kyoto

Last updated: 23 May 2024

Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri, a month-long festival starting July 1, features traditional performances and parades, transforming the city into an enchanting celebration hub.

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Table of Contents
  1. What is the Gion Matsuri?
  2. Getting to Gion Matsuri: Transportation Options
  3. 2024 Gion Matsuri main event schedule
  4. Gion Matsuri Festival Seat Tickets
  5. 8 Things to See at the Gion Matsuri
  6. How are the crowds at Gion Matsuri and how to dress?

Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri is a captivating festival filled with traditional charm, delighting any visitor to Japan. Beginning on July 1 each year, it spans a full month. One of the festival's unforgettable experiences is the rhythmic sound of Kane bells played by Hayashi performers.

The festival's main highlights are the "Saki-matsuri" on July 17 and the "Ato-matsuri" on July 24, both featuring the spectacular Yamaboko-junkō parades. These joyful processions wind through Kyoto's streets, enchanting crowds with their lively atmosphere.

But Gion Matsuri offers much more than these main events. Throughout the month, visitors can enjoy the pre-festivals known as "Yoi-yama," which fill the city with an electrifying festive spirit, turning Kyoto into a magical hub of celebration for both locals and tourists.

What is the Gion Matsuri?

One of Japan's Three Great Festivals, the Gion Matsuri is held at the renowned Yasaka Shrine.

Originating during the Heian period to appease evil spirits thought to be causing a plague, the festival boasts a proud 1,150-year history.

Known for its long duration, extravagance, and deep connection to Kyoto, the Gion Matsuri has become an integral part of the city's cultural heritage and holds a special place in the hearts of its residents.

Getting to Gion Matsuri: Transportation Options

Easily accessible from Hankyu Karasuma Station and Kyoto City Subway Karasuma-Oike Station, reaching Gion Matsuri is convenient and hassle-free.

2024 Gion Matsuri main event schedule

The schedule for the 2024 Gion Matsuri is as follows. Please note that there may be changes, so it's recommended to check the official website before visiting.

Note that paid viewing seats will be available only for the Pre-Festival (Saki-matsuri) Parade on July 17th and the Post-Festival (Ato-matsuri) Parade on July 24th.

・Event Dates: July 1-31, 2024
・Yamaboko-junkō Parade: Pre-Festival - July 17th / Post-Festival - July 24th
・Venue: Yasaka Shrine

Festival Timings
  • July 1st to 18th: Kippu-iri procession
  • July 2nd: Kuji-tori-shiki ceremony
  • July 10th: Lantern reception and Mikoshi purification ceremony
  • July 10th to 14th: Saki-matsuri – Building of the Yamaboko floats
  • July 12th and 13th: Saki-matsuri – Yamaboko Hikihajime parade
  • July 14th to 16th: Saki-matsuri – Yoi-yama and Byobu Matsuri
  • July 17th: Saki-matsuri – Yamaboko-junkō parade and Shinkōsai
  • July 18th to 21st: Ato-matsuri – Building of the Yamaboko floats
  • July 20th and 21st: Ato-matsuri – Yamaboko Hikihajime parade
  • July 21st to 23rd: Ato-matsuri – Yoi-yama and Byobu Matsuri
  • July 24th: Ato-matsuri – Yamaboko-junkō parade, Hanagasa-junkō parade, and Kankōsai
  • July 28th: Mikoshi-arai-shiki (mikoshi purification ceremony)
  • July 31st: Ekijinja-nagoshisai Festival

Gion Matsuri Festival Seat Tickets

Tickets for paid viewing seats, which allow you to enjoy the festival from an excellent vantage point, are also available for purchase. A portion of the proceeds from these tickets is used to preserve and continue the Yamaboko-junkō processions of the Gion Matsuri.

8 Things to See at the Gion Matsuri

8 Things to See at the Gion Matsuri

1. Prayers for a smooth festival

The Gion Matsuri kicks off on July 1 with the "Kippu-iri" ceremony, where various stakeholders in the Yamaboko district gather to pray for the festival's success and hold meetings to discuss its smooth running.

2. The Kuji-hiki, a ballot that determines the float order during the Yamaboko-junkō parade

To determine the parade order for the Yamaboko-junkō parades, representatives from the Yamaboko district gather with the mayor of Kyoto City for the "Kuji-tori-shiki" ceremony. While nine floats, including the Naginatahoko float, have a predetermined order and do not participate in the drawing, the remaining 24 spots are decided by drawing lots for both the Saki-matsuri and Ato-matsuri.

3. See the “moving museums” of beautifully and ornately decorated Yamaboko floats

3. See the “moving museums” of beautifully and ornately decorated Yamaboko floats

Of the 33 main Yamaboko floats, 29 are designated as Important Tangible Cultural Properties, adorned with exquisite carpets and tapestries. Some floats feature decorations incorporating imported Gobelin weaves and Nishijin weaves. These stunning artworks, revealed one by one as the parade progresses, have earned the Yamaboko the nickname "moving museums."

4. Get your hands on the famous chimaki amulets and other goods

One of the famous items of the Gion Matsuri is the Chimaki, an amulet made of bamboo grass for warding off bad luck and disease. Each Yamaboko has its own uniquely designed Chimaki with specific purposes. Many families in Kyoto place these amulets at their doorways to protect against bad luck. Additionally, there are various goods and items highlighting the unique aspects of each Yamaboko available for purchase, so be sure to visit the district office to check them out.

5. You can ride the Yamaboko floats before the parade!

By purchasing a Yamaboko float's chimaki amulet or a riding ticket, you can ride on the Yamaboko float. This allows you to see the intricate details of each decoration, from the construction of the ceiling to the head of the float. The boarding process is smoother during the day than at night, so take advantage of this opportunity to fully appreciate the craftsmanship up close.

6. The largest event before the Yoi-yama, the Yamaboko Hikihajime

The floats built for the Yamaboko-junkō parade, known as Hoko or Hikiyama, are tested for movement and parade-worthiness during the Yamaboko Hikihajime, held on July 12 and 13 for the Saki-matsuri, and on July 20 and 21 for the Ato-matsuri. Besides the main parade, the Yamaboko Hikihajime is the only other time to see the floats in action. Moving at around walking speed, these tests allow you to appreciate the immense size of the floats up close, creating an unforgettable experience.

7. Enjoy the height of the festival at the “Yoi-yama”!

The Yoi-yama takes place three days, two days, and the day before the Yamaboko-junkō parade in Shijo-dōri, where the Yamaboko floats tower over the small exhibits and shops lining the road.

The Yoi-yama for the Saki-matsuri, held on July 15 and 16, transforms the street into a pedestrian paradise. The "kon-chinki" sounds from the Gion Hayashi musicians fill the air, and the sight of lit Komagata lanterns creates a wonderful festival atmosphere.

In contrast, the Yoi-yama during the Ato-matsuri from July 21 to July 23 offers a much calmer ambiance, allowing you to relax and enjoy the serene mood.

8. Be sure not to miss the festival's highlight - the Yamaboko-junkō parade!

8. Be sure not to miss the festival's highlight - the Yamaboko-junkō parade!

With 23 floats during the Saki-matsuri on July 17 and 10 floats during the Ato-matsuri on July 24, the Yamaboko floats parading through the streets of Kyoto are a breathtaking sight. The Kyoto Gion Matsuri Float Ceremony is recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. A highlight of the procession is the "Tsuiji-mawashi" points, where the floats change direction, earning applause and cheers from onlookers.

During the Yamaboko-junkō parade, Koike-dōri Street is converted into a fee-paying, designated seating area for the parade. In total, 33 Yamaboko floats can be seen between the Saki-matsuri and the Ato-matsuri, and you can enjoy the procession from beautifully decorated stands with paid seating.

The fee-paying seats during the Ato-matsuri offer not only a view of the Yamaboko-junkō parade but also a close-up look at the inspection of the floats, known as the Kuji Aratame. Tickets are sold in convenience stores nationwide, as well as travel agents, and on the internet (https://kyoto.travel/en/).

How are the crowds at Gion Matsuri and how to dress?

StreetVJ / Shutterstock.com
StreetVJ / Shutterstock.com

Expect crowds of 400,000-500,000 on the streets during the Yoiyama, accompanied by high temperatures. Due to the large crowds and sweltering summer heat, it's recommended to dress lightly, wear comfortable shoes, and bring a bottle of water.

The magnificent Gion Matsuri, dating back to the Heian period, attracts visitors from all over Japan for the Yoi-yama and Yamaboko-junkō parades. The main draw of the festival is its vibrant and refreshing spiritual ceremonies and rituals held for the gods, making it a must-experience event.

Text by: Efeel

*This article was originally published in May 2020 and updated in May 2024.

  • Gion Festival
    • Address Yasaka Shrine and others, Kyoto Prefecture Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City, 605-0000
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Kyoto Station (JR Tokaido Line / JR Biwako Line / JR Tokaido Shinkansen / JR Kyoto Line / JR Sagano Line / JR San-in Line / JR Nara Line / Karasuma Line / Kintetsu-kyoto Line)
      20 minutes by bus
    • Phone Number 075-561-6155
*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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