Saio (the Priestess) (斎王)

Saio or Itsuki no miko (the Priestess) was an unmarried princess of the blood or female relative of the Emperor who served as a shrine maiden at the Ise-jingu Shrine and the Kamo-jinja Shrine. According to the strict definition, the name 'Sai naishinno' was designated as a princess of blood while a female relative of the Emperor was referred to as 'Saio' or 'Saijoo,' and in general, they were collectively called Saio. Saio of the Ise-jingu and Kamo-jinja Shrines were called Saigu, and Saiin respectively; the former lasted from ancient times (the time of Emperor Tenmu) to the period of the Northern and the Southern Courts (Japan); the latter from the Heian to the Kamakura periods.

As a traditional event, the Kamo-jinja Shrine holds the Aoi Festival, to celebrate when Saio presided during her time of service. Since then, the Aoi Festival has continued, but was discontinued three times during the Muromachi, Edo, and post war periods. With the revival of the Aoi festival in 1953, the role of Saio dai has been played by an unmarried woman selected from ordinary citizens since 1956. The woman selected as Saio dai, wears Juni hitoe or Karaginumoshozoku (a layered kimono), putting on stage make up and having her teeth blackened.

[Original Japanese]