5 Things You Should Know Before Going to Aoi Matsuri Festival
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Back to Heian Era – The Ancient Aristocracy Procession
500 people walk. Is it the Donald Trump Protestants’ March? No no. On Monday May 15, the Aoi Matsuri, one of the Kyoto’s three most well-known festivals, will take places in the central Kyoto. Here are 5 things, basic to secret, you should know before going to Aoi Matsuri next week.
1. Importance of Kyoto Imperial Palace, Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine for Japanese
There are three important places for the festival, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Shimogamo and Kamigamo shrines. The parade starts from Kyoto Imperial Palace, stops by Shimogamo Shrine and eventually arrives at Kamigamo Shrine. They walk seven kilometres in total. Some of you might wonder why those three spots are decided as stops of the parade, why the parade doesn’t stop at more well-known temples, and what those places mean to the parade.
Three places are divided as starting, middle and ending points as their importance especially during the Heian period. Heian period? I’ll talk about it in the second section.
Kyoto Imperial Palace (photo above) used to be an emperor’s house from 14th to 19th century before Taisei Hokan, when the emperor moved his settlement to Tokyo. The emperor no longer lives in the palace, but the old tradition has still continued and the palace has been protected as an important cultural property of the country. As well as the palace, Shimogamo and Kamigamo Shrines are considered as significant heritages in Japan. The aim of the parade is to deliver the emperor’s massages from Kyoto Imperial Palace to both two significant shrines (All three places are the World Heritage Sites). The family members of the emperor have faith in Shintoism, so it’s a reason why destinations of the parade are shrines, not temples. Now do you understand important meanings of the parade and three places?
(Shimogamo Shrine [above] Kamigamo Shrine [below], they are called “Kamo Shrines”)
2. Heian Period – Let’s Have A Bit of History Class
Let’s have a bit of Japanese history class. Heian period runs between 794 to 1185. Literally translated, Heian (平安) refers to “peaceful” in Japanese, so a majority of Japanese misunderstands that it is a peaceful era; however, it was named with a hope that the world would be calm and there would be no wars due to the fact that there were actually a lot of conflicts and competes between nobilities or warriors.
Heian period is also known as its unique culture. A Hiragana (ひらがな) character, one of the three kinds of Japanese alphabets, was created during the period. Also, the most famous representative cultural thing might be unique kimono, especially complex Junihitoe (十二単) kimono for noblewomen. It has unique and different features with usual Kimono, one Maiko/Geiko wear. The obvious differences are different coloured layers and a long robe. Find more differences by yourself when you see the parade on next Monday!
3. The Highlighted Person – The Princess
The parade of 500 attendees consists of over 50 kinds of official positions at the imperial palace during Heian period. Among 500 of people, one lady looks remarkably outstanding even though she is surrounded by many people. Her name is Saiodai (斎王代) and she is the primary character of the parade. As she is the most important person of the event and represents a messenger of god. This year, Sayo Tomita attends the festival as Satodai. She is just 19 years old and a college student. You’ll be surprised how her costume and accessories are detailed and elegant.
Saodai is chosen from female residences in Kyoto by considering several conditions such as marriage status (unmarried), well understanding of Japanese manners and cultures, being able to sit down Japanese style for a long time, etc.. Wow, it sounds tough, right? More importantly, she or her family has to be rich since the fee of every preparation including kimono, hair and cleaning is paid by her. Can you guess how much it costs for the preparation? Let’s move onto the next topic.
4. How Much Does It Cost for Parade Attendees’ Costumes?
20,000,000 yen. That’s how much Princess Saoudai spends for her preparation of the parade. What’s even more remarkably is that it’s paid by her as I talked in #3. It’s easy to imagine your faces are like “oh my goodness.” Now you may understand how valuable and honor to become Saoudai even though it takes 20,000,000 yen, about 176,238 US dollars.
In addition to Saoudai, the parade attendees wear traditional Heian kimono. The total amount of their kimono is not announced, but it’s estimated that over 400,000,000 yen, including cleaning cost, has been used for attendees’ costumes. Now it’s obvious why the parade looks remarkably elegant and gorgeous.
(Saoudai’s Purification Ceremony before the festival)
5. Where To See The Parade? – Best Spot
If it is your first time to see the parade, it must be hard to find the best spots to enjoy the event. Don’t take time to research, we’re here to tell you tips to choose your place at the event.
Please keep your mind that areas around Shimogamo and Kamigamo Shrines are over crowded every year, so it isn’t recommended for someone who doesn’t crowded places. However, it implies that more people are there, the more attractive and enjoyable, so if you want to see highlighted points of the event, take your camera stands (the taller legs, the better) to take good pictures and be ready for over crowded environment.
For someone who hates crowded places and want to see overall of the parade, the area around Kamo-kaido (加茂街道) right before the parade enters into Kamigamo Shrine is one you’ll like. The parade passes the point at about 14:55. It isn’t that crowded and you are able to view the parade in the shades of trees. In addition to Kamokaido, there are relatively less people around the starting point, Kyoto Imperial Palace, than numbers of people coming to two shrines. A good point of viewing at the palace is that the scheduled time never changes by any delays since it is a starting place.
You are also able to reserve a paid seat at Kyoto Imperial Palace and Kamigamo Shrine. A viewing seat thicket costs 3,500 yen (about $30), including English earphone guide and an event brochure. The tickets of special seats at Kyoto Imperial Palace are available for purchase at the following booking website: https://ticket.rakuten.co.jp/features/kyoto_aoi/index.html
Based on those five important things to understand to fully enjoy your time at Aoi Matsuri, plan Aoi Matsuri, one of the most magical festivals in Kyoto.
Date: Monday May 15, 2017 —- Postponed to the next day (May 16) in case of rain
Time: 10:30 – (16:00, can be changed)
葵祭2017の日程とコース。斎王代は誰？交通規制情報. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2017, from http://da-inn.com/aoimaturi-7018/
Aoi Matsuri – Japan National Tourism Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2017, from https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/festival/aoimatsuri.html
葵祭 Aoi Matsuri Festival . (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2017, from https://www.kyokanko.or.jp/aoi/
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