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Aoi Matsuri: a festival beyond the limits of time

Decorated ox-drawn cartwheels, a large procession of women in kimono and men in hakama, the festival Aoi Matsuri announces the arrival of spring in the streets of Kyoto.

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The Aoi Matsuri, or "Hollyhock Festival," is one of the main annual festivals held in Kyoto. The Aoi Matsuri began in the Heian period (710 - 1185) because of a succession of disastrous rains with high winds ruining the crops. This procession of ox-drawn cartwheels decorated with hollyhock leaves​ to ward off bad luck. Nowadays, this tradition continues  and the festival is held every May 15th.

The parade, in which over 500 people dressed in the aristocratic style of the Heian Period, walks from the Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrines. 

Women and men are costumed and parade on horseback or in cartwheels, or walk. TheSaio is one of the main figures in the Aoi Matsuri. Traditionally, the Saio was a young female member of the imperial family who served as the high priestess of the Kamo Shrines. During festivals, the Saio performed rituals at the shrines. In the modern era, a different unmarried woman from Kyoto is selected each year to serve as Saio. You can easily recognize her because a procession of women in kimono are accompanying her.

This procession of people dressed in period costumes surrounded by cemented streets, give us a picture of a city beyond the limits of time. That festival mixes old Japan and modern Japan perfectly.

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  • Culture & traditions
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