With a history that's over 1,000 years old, Kyoto Gion Matsuri is one of Japan’s biggest and most important festivals. First held in 869 as a way to fight an epidemic that was spreading across Japan and ward off vengeful spirits, the festival is now held annually at Kyoto’s Yasaka Shrine throughout July. While nearly every day of the festival features a host of exciting events and rituals, the highlight of Gion Matsuri is undoubtedly the Yamaboko Junko (sometimes pronounced ‘Yamahoko’).
Split into two days on July 17 and July 24, the Yamaboko Junko is a giant procession where colossal floats are paraded through Gion. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Yamaboko Junko had to be cancelled for the last two editions of the Gion Matsuri. However, it’s now set to return to the festival for the first time in three years this summer.
The first half of the parade, held on July 17, will begin at Shijo Karasuma and feature 23 breathtaking floats. The procession on July 24, on the other hand, will kick off at Karasuma Oike and include 11 floats.
Some of the floats are so enormous that they can weigh up to 12 tons each and require 50 men to carry, so if you're in the city during the procession, you'll likely spot them from afar. If you want an up-close look at the colourful, ornate pieces, you can now book a spot at the parade-side bleachers.
Spectator tickets for July 17 (procession starts at 10.20am) are fully booked, but general seating for the procession on July 24 is still available for ¥4,100 per person on the ticketing site Pia. You can either watch from Karasuma Oike, where the procession will begin at roughly 9.30am. Or in front of Kyoto City Hall; the procession will pass by at roughly 9.50am. Roads will be closed off to make way for the event, so aim to be at either venue at least half an hour before the floats are scheduled to arrive.
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