Hollyhock Festival

Japan is home to diverse cultures and each culture has a festivity of its own. Hollyhock festival also known as Aoi Matsuri, is one of the main festivals held on May 15 every year in Kyoto. It is one of the most graceful festivals in the country, and it has been preserved ever since it first started.

The main attraction of the festival is the large parade in Kyoto in which more than 500 people dressed in aristocratic style of the Heian Period (794-1185) walk from the Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrines. Aoi is the Japanese term for Hollyhock, and the festival is named after the Hollyhock leaves that are worn by the members of the procession as an ornament and also used to decorate the carriages used by the paraders.

Hollyhock Festival

Image Courtesy: Chris Gladis used under the Creative Commons Licence

Aoi Matsuri began in the 7th century, although its precise origins are uncertain. It is attributed to the Kamo shrines and is believed that when a natural disaster occurred the emperor of the Heian Period made offerings to the Gods in the Kamo Shrine and as a result the disaster subsided and ever since then the tradition of celebrating Aoi Matsuri began.

The festival includes a procession in which people clad in the elegant and lavish dress of the ancient imperial court with gorgeous carriages are pulled by oxen. It consists of a private imperial service, a Shinto ritual, and a parade from the Imperial Palace in Kyoto to Kamigamo Shrine. When people talk about the Aoi Festival, they usually mean the parade and the courtly music and dances that are performed along the way.

This festival is said to deliver the Emperor’s message to the people and also to make offerings to the two shrines of Shimogamo and Kamigamo. The messenger on horseback wearing a golden sword at his side holds the most important position in the parade and is followed by a train of attendants.

Hollyhock Festival - Aoi Matsuri

Image Courtesy: Chris Gladis used under the Creative Commons Licence

Yet another highlight of the procession is the parade of women accompanying the proxy of the imperial princess serving the deities. The role is selected from among all unmarried women living in Kyoto. The lady is dressed up in a formal style of the imperial court, which has 12 layers of kimono, weighing 30 kg in total.

At about 10:30, the procession commemorates and leaves the Kyoto Imperial Palace, where the Emperor would work and reside until 1869. It stops by at Shimogamo-jinja Shrine and finally arrives at Kamigamo-jinja Shrine around 15:30. Upon arrival of the procession, dance performances and horse events take place.

As you watch this procession you will be traversed to the tenth century and you will truly revel in the festivity that brings forth the spirit of ancient traditions.

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