Kyoto’s touristical October highlight is Jidai matsuri on October 22nd. Literally, Jidai matsuri means Era Festival, but it is more commonly translated into English as the Festival of the Ages. It is the final of the three great festivals in Kyoto featuring parades through the city, after the Aoi matsuri in May and the Gion matsuri in July.
Jidai matsuri is a comparatively young festival - it first took place in 1895, 1100 years after Kyoto had become the capital of Japan, and only a few years after it had lost this title to Tokyo when the Meiji emperor moved there after the restoration. Like most festivals in Japan, Jidai matsuri is connected to a shrine, in this case to Heian shrine. Heian shrine was also built in 1895 as a 2/3 replica of the former imperial palace, and enshrines both the first and the last emperor that resided in Kyoto, Kanmu and Komei, respectively.
Jidai matsuri was established to commemorate the history of Kyoto, and about 2000 people take part in the procession each year, dressed in historical costumes ranging over more than a millenium. The parade starts at noon at the Imperial Palace and is led by the mayor of Kyoto and other city officials in a horse carriage from the mid 19th century. From there, the parade literally goes back in time, from the Edo period - which makes up the largest part of the parade - to the Muromachi period, and all the way to the early Heian period of the 11th century. At the very end of the parade there are two portable mikoshi shrines carrying the spirits of emperor Kanmu and Komei back to Heian Shrine, from which they had come early that morning.
Most of the participants depict warriors and famous samurai, for example Oda Nobunaga, a contemporary of the first shogun Tokugawa Iyeyasu. However, famous women are also represented, for example Murasaki Shikibu, writer of the Genji Monogatari. Strewn throughout the parade are common people as well, foot soldiers and pages, merchants and women selling flowers...
What makes Jidai Matsuri so attractive is the enormous amount of detail that goes into the costume design and the props that are used. From the clothing (some fabric is dyed according to ancient procedures) and the appropriate hairstyle, down to straw sandals and other accessories like helmets, jewelry, fans, weapons, even water buckets for the horses, everything has been meticulously researched and recreated, sometimes using very old traditional methods. It is like watching history unfolding itself - an occasion no real Japan afficionado should miss.
Imperial Palace (from 12:00) - Marutamachi dori (west) - Karasuma dori (south, ca. 12:30) - Oike dori (east, ca. 12:50) - Kawaramachi dori (south, ca. 13:20) - Sanjo dori (east, ca. 13:40) - Jingu dori (north, ca. 14:15) - Heian Shrine (ca. 14:30)
The whole procession takes about 2 hours to pass any one point. The most scenic viewing spots are in the Imperial Palace and at Heian Shrine. General access is free, but paid seats are available at the palace, along Oike dori, and along Jingu dori. Tickets can be bought at various tourist information centres throughout Kyoto for 2.050 YEN per person.
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