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Gion Matsuri in Kyoto

Ancient tradition

This festival has its origins in the 9th century. Kyoto, then the capital of the country was ravaged by a terrible plague. One of the priests of the Gion shrine (also called Yasaka shrine) wanted to ask the Shinto gods to stop the plague. Therefore, he organised a big procession through the streets of the ancient capital. Shortly afterwards the plague was averted, but out of gratitude the procession was repeated every summer.

Today, the festival lasts the entire month of July, culminating with the Yamahoko - Junko parade on July 17th. Thirty floats are then carried/pulled through the city in a mile-long procession. Indeed, there are two types of floats: the vast majority is the 'Yama', which weigh up to half a ton and are worn by some twenty men on the shoulders. The other is the 'Hoko', even more impressive with a height of up to 25 meters and weighing between 5 and 10 tonnes. To see the Hoko being drawn is an impressive spectacle!

During the evenings of the big parade there is a party in the city: people pull on their best yukata (light summer kimono) and go eat and drink in the numerous eateries that are scattered throughout the city. During these so-called 'Yoiyama' evenings many people open up their traditional homes to the public. This represents a rare opportunity to see a Japanese house from within.

During our Japan tour departing on July 7, 2014 you will stay in Kyoto whilst the festival takes place. Even if you miss the final parade on the last day, you still have ample time during the days and evenings to soak up the atmosphere of Gion Matsuri!

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