Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Flower Festival) (葵祭)

Aoi Matsuri (formally known as Kamo Matsuri) is an annual celebration that takes place at Kamomioya-jinja Shrine (Shimogamo-jinja Shrine) and Kamowakeikazuchi-jinja Shrine (Kamigamo-jinja Shrine) in Kyoto City on May 15 (the middle day of Cock day of lunar calendar). While the Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine matsuri is called the South Festival, Aoi Matsuri is called the North Festival. During the Heian period, Matsuri (Festival) simply means Kamo Matsuri.

While the Gion Festival is a festival for the general public, it is one of sanchokusai (three great festivals designated by Japan's imperial court), together with the festivals of Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine and Kasuga Taisha Shrine, and it became an event of the Kamo clan and the Imperial court which court nobles visited and enjoyed, and it then became a festival for the court nobles.

It is one of the three largest festivals in Kyoto considered a resource for tourism in Kyoto City.

People marching in late Heian period garments decorated with hollyhock flowers, is famous. While it is generally thought that leading character of the festival is Saio-dai (the acting High Priestess), in fact, the main player is Chokushi-dai (the acting Imperial delegate). In the Tale of Genji, the scene of Hikaru Genji playing the Imperial delegate is impressive. As the festival is held in the rainy season, people often are soaked by sudden rain showers.

Pre Ceremony

Although many pre-ritual events take place, Yabusame, a Shinto religious horseback archery ceremony is famous among them. It is a ritual that takes place along a 500 meter riding ground in the middle of the Tadasuno Mori forest, archers in court noble style official costumes and warrior style hunting costumes try to shoot down three targets from horseback.

As yabusame is also written as '矢伏射馬' in kanji characters, yabusame is a horseback archery. It is one of the most popular events because a highly skilled technique is required to precisely shoot down targets while the horse runs.

An entry in the "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan) explains that in the year of the enthronement Emperor Yuryaku (in 457), they practiced 'Umayumi' (horseback archery), and in the "Shoku Nihongi" (the Sequel of the Chronicles of Japan) it explains that 'horseback archery shall be prohibited when people get together at the Kamo Matsuri Festival,' it has been a Japanese equestrian art with a long history since ancient times.

The archer shouts 'In, Yo' which means 'yin-yang.'

When the arrows hit the targets, it is believed that gokoku (the five cereals: similes of harvest) are promised for abundant grain harvests, and wishes come true.

It had stopped in 1502, but resumed again in 1973, held as a memorial event for the of Transfer of a deity to a new shrine building as prescribed in the number of years for Shimogamo-jinja Shrine. Yabusame in court noble style official costume is handed down by an organization called 'Tadasu no Mori Yabusame Jinji hozonkai' (Yabusame in Tadasu no Mori Preservation Association).

At Kamigamo-jinja Shrine, a horse competition ritual is performed.

Imperial delegates and acting Imperial delegates: On road ceremony and ceremony at the shrine location

On May 15, people dressed in Heian period costumes march with a gissha (cow carriage) from Kyoto Imperial Palace via Shimogamo-jinja Shrine to Kamigamo-jinja Shrine and Konoe no tsukai (Imperial Guard delegate), and as guards, officers from Kebiishicho (Office of Police and Judicial Chief) such as 'Kebiishi jo' (second officer of the imperial police bureau), 'Kebiishi shi' (third officer of the imperial police bureau), Yamashiro no tsukai (delegate of the Yamashiro Province), Maryo no tsukai (delegate of Maryo (the section taking care of imperial horses)), and Kura no tsukai (delegate of Kuraryo (the Inner Treasury Office)), and make a main march. A march is led by women, Saio-dai makes a Nyonin-retsu (women's march), and this holds Roto no gi (the on road ceremony). Konoeshi (The acting Imperial Guard delegate (Imperial delegate): This is because the Konoefu (Imperial Guard Office) used to be dispatched to the Kamo matsuri as an Imperial Delegate. However, today, the Imperial delegate (the delegate of the real Emperor) does not participate in the march, a representative called Konoeshi-dai (the acting Imperial Guard delegate) participates instead. Yamashiro no tsukai: Because Kamo-jinja Shrine was not under the control of Kyoshiki (the Capital Bureau), but under the provincial office of the Yamashiro Province, thus 'Yamashiro no suke' (Deputy governor of the Yamashiro Province) was dispatched as a guard and director of the ceremony. Maryo no tsukai: Sama no jo (third officer of the Horse Office of the Left) was dispatched). Kura no tsukai: 'Uchikura no suke' (Assistant Head of the Inner Treasury Office) and 'Uchikura shisho' (the office clerk of the Inner Treasury Office) who were in charge of paper or cloth strips attached to a stick and offered to a deity are dispatched. At Shimogamo-jinja Shrine and Kamigamo-jinja Shrine, the actual Imperial delegate, Shotenshoku (ceremonial master) announces the ceremonial message and the ceremony is carried out at the shrine. This is Shato no gi (ceremony conducted on the shrine premises).

The Roto no gi (to see the march): For seat reservation (at the Imperial Palace and the promenade to Shimogamo-jinja Shrine) for a fee, contact the Kyoto City Tourist Association.

The Shato no gi (to see the ceremony): For seat reservations (in the romon (two-storey gate) of Shimogamo-jinja Shrine) for a fee, contact Shimogamo-jinja Shrine.


Saio (the High priestess) is an imperial princess or queen from the Imperial family who served as miko (a shrine maiden) at Kamo-jinja Shrine.

Today, it is selected among the general public of the Kyoto residents, and is in fact Saio-dai (an acting High priestess). However, there is no formal office for receiving 'public applications' for Saio-dai.

She wears Karaginu-mo Shozoku (Chinese dress costume), and is heavily made up like a theatrical actress, and her teeth are painted black.

On May 4 in every year, Saio-dai Misogi no gi (a purifying ceremony of the acting High priestess) takes place.

It is the ceremony that Saio-dai and females involved in the ritual soak their hands in the Mitarashi-ike pond and purify themselves, and it takes place at Shimogamo-jinja Shrine and Kamigamo-jinja Shrine every other year.

Women's March

At the center of the march is Saio-dai, and Me no Warawa (the lady attendants), Umanori no Onna (ladies on horseback), and Uneme (court ladies from provinces), nyokan (court ladies) follow and a gorgeous parade marches on.

All of them put on heavy makeup like theatrical makeup but no one paints their teeth black except for Saio-dai.

[Original Japanese]