Kyoto is known for its three great festivals: Aoi Matsuri, Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri, held on Oct. 22, to mark the relocation of Japan’s capital from Kyoto to Tokyo during the Meiji Restoration of 1868.
Moving the Imperial family and thousands of government figures meant the city would lose some of its luster, so the local population decided to create a festival celebrating the 1100th anniversary of Heian-kyō (the former name of Kyoto). Emperor Kammu, who was commemorated in the Heian Shrine for the inaugural festival, founded the city in 794. Jidai Matsuri honors a number of figures and periods throughout Japan’s history, including the work of Emperor Kōmei, who unified the country after the decline of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The modern festival begins with a ritual paying of respects. Portable shrines called mikoshi are brought out representing the two honored Emperors, kicking off a costumed parade leading to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the former home of the Japanese royal family. The procession is five hours and two kilometers long, with 2,000 performers dressed in Meiji era regalia parading through the streets, ending with the mikoshi being carried to the Heian Shrine.
Jidai Matsuri is less of a festival and more of a holiday parade, but it’s a colorful way of seeing Japanese history and the local Kyoto culture. Learn more about the historic pageant by visiting jnto.go.jp.
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