Kyoto’s “Aoi Matsuri” Festival

Monday saw the Aoi Matsuri festival here in Kyoto.

Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival), Kyoto Japan, May 15 2006

“Aoi Matsuri” is 葵祭Aoi means “hollyhock” (a kind of flower), and matsuri means both “source of great traffic congestion” and “festival”.

This particular festival, held on May 15th ever year, dates back about 1,000 years, making it the oldest festival still held today. It's a “festival”, though, only in the sense of the hoopla surrounding it is festive — it's really more of an “event”.

People dressed in period costumes leave the imperial palace and walk a path to some shrines a few kilometers away. People line the path to see the costumes and such.

For example, this gentleman is a security guard:

Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival), Kyoto Japan, May 15 2006

These people are, uh, carrying something.

Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival), Kyoto Japan, May 15 2006

Looking at this satellite map of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, it's centered on the main processionway within the palace grounds. They walk south, out onto the street, following the street east and then north up the right side of the palace grounds, then on north somewhere to some shrines

As each small group walks down the initial wide processionway, they stop in front of big grandstands set up, and some old guy talks about them a bit. It's very slow. The acoustics aren't great, nor, apparently, is my Japanese, so the only thing I understood the whole time was the bit about the security guards (shown above). Still, it was a pleasant day and enjoyable just to watch them and the hubbub for a while.

This kid had a great view of the proceedings:

Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival), Kyoto Japan, May 15 2006

There were all kinds of different costumes, and various “things” of unknown (to me) function. As one example, here's something that looks like a big umbrella, although I doubt that's what it actually is:

Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival), Kyoto Japan, May 15 2006

This cart, obviously for someone very important (the emperor?):

Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival), Kyoto Japan, May 15 2006

The cart was drawn by a dozen men. They're out of the picture to the left, but you can see some more — I like this view of it because of the group of yellow-hat-wearing preschoolers watching on the right, which I thought were cute. Although you can't see the cart-pulling men, you can see a few of the buzzing important-looking attendants (priests?) following (one of whom is holding a walkie-talkie, which the Japanese apparently had working at the time).

The flowers surrounding the cart, I was told, are the hollyhock. At the time, I assumed they were the violet-colored ones hanging around the edge, but now I wonder if they're the yellow ones. Not that it really matters — I don't know much about flowers (except that they're pretty, which is sufficient for me).

Here's a closeup:

Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival), Kyoto Japan, May 15 2006

On my way home, I passed them walking north on Kawaramachi Street (the right side of the palace grounds). I thought it was nicer to see them within the grounds, rather than on the street amongst the traffic. But the juxtaposition of modern and ancient can be interesting as well. Here's a picture Nils took while they passed on a street further on north.

All 3 comments so far, oldest first...

But where are the hollyhocks??? I came here expecting exquisite Japanese blossoms and
to invite fanciers of hollyhocks to my blog, which today featured hollyhocks!!

However, I’ll just have to tell my readers that in Japan, there’s such a thing as a
Hollyhock festival.


Granny J

— comment by Julie on June 14th, 2006 at 9:01am JST (18 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

jeffrey, what a fantastic photogapher are you !!! Man, I really enjoyed your “magic eye”
we’re leaving for Japan in two weeks and come back the first week of november.
I think I have to buy a very high capacity memory card for my camera.
thanks for sharing.
els spieker from the netherlands

— comment by els spieker on September 7th, 2008 at 11:08pm JST (15 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink


This comment comes a bit late but—in case you’re still looking for the hollyhock flowers, they are not the point of this event. It’s the hollyhock LEAVES—which are particularly attractive. Three of them arranged in a circle in fact comprised the Tokugawa crest.

Also, I believe the cart decorated with wisteria fronds refers to the Fujiwara clan—prominent during the Heian era; most probably too, the cart is a reference to an incident in chapter 9 of the Tale of Genji, where the competition for the positioning of carriages—one occupied by Genji’s wife, and the other by one of his lovers led to the humiliation of the latter, with dire consequences for the former. Anyway, thanks for the photos. How I wish I could attend one of these elegant matsuris!

— comment by Marylis on February 21st, 2011 at 8:53pm JST (13 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink
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