Aoi Festival Reproduces Imperial-Court Picture ScrollCool, Light Breeze in Kyoto
The Aoi Festival, the first of Kyoto's three major festivals, was held on May 15, amid a light breeze blowing through Kyoto City. The procession of approximately 500 people in elegant Heian Period court costumes proceeded at a deliberate pace through the streets of the ancient capital. Numerous spectators along the streets watched the procession, which was like an imperial-court picture scroll, march along gracefully.
The Aoi Festival is an annual festival of Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine.
Its formal name is "Kamo Festival." The name "Aoi" comes from the leaves of "Futaba Aoi," or a kind of mallow, and Japanese Judas trees inserted in the costumes of the procession participants, as well as in the ancient oxcart. It is said that its origin dates back to the sixth century. The festival is also known for being the scene of "Kuruma Arasoi," or carriage dispute, in the "Tale of Genji," where court nobles fought over a better place to park their carriages and view the festival.
Under slightly cloudy skies, the roughly-800-meter-long procession departed from the Kenrei-mon Gate of the Kyoto Imperial Palace in Kamigyo Ward around 10:30 a.m.
The original main figure of the festival is the "Konoezukai-dai," or an imperial guard serving as an acting Imperial Envoy. He rode a horse with a silver mask to lead the main procession carrying offerings for deities. The gorgeous women's procession, which was established in 1956, was centered upon the "Oyoyo," a wheeled palanquin carrying Sayo Tomita, who served as the 62nd "Saio-dai," or festival heroine, dressed in a multilayered "Junihitoe" kimono. She proceeded along the route escorted by "Warawame," or young girls, and "Naishi," or court ladies, as well as "Munanori-Onna" shrine maidens on horseback. The oxcart, with its creaking wheels and wisteria flowers swinging back and forth, drew the attention of the spectators.
According to the Kyoto Local Meteorological Observatory, the temperature was 24.9 degrees Celsius at 10:30 a.m. The Kyoto Prefecture Police announced that the number of spectators reached 16,000, down 18,500 from the same time last year, when the festival fell on a Sunday.
The procession reached Shimogamo Shrine before noon. Passing through the Tadasu no Mori forest, which was clothed in dazzling verdure, they went to the main shrine to take part in the "Shato no Gi" ritual. Afterwards, they departed for Kamigamo Shrine at 2:20 p.m.(translated by Galileo, Inc.)