Join in the festivities of the Gion Matsuri, one of Japan’s biggest celebrations

In order to offer transparency into how our stories are produced and to teach our readers about the importance of media literacy online, the editorial team provides a quick self-rating of the integrity of the articles and the facts presented against the following IQ metrics.

  • Published on July 18, 2022
  • Last Updated March 10, 2023
  • In Spotlight

The festival, which dates back to 869, will flood the streets of Kyoto with festivities including dancers and massive, elaborate floats.

Summer nights in Kyoto come alive with an air of tradition every July as the streets fill with snack carts, cultural performers and kimono-clad celebrants for theGion Matsuri, also known as Gion Festival. One of the biggest celebrations in all of Japan, the tradition comes from the Shinto religion back in 869 as a display for the gods in hopes of evading an epidemic plague. The celebration, over time, took on other cultural implications and gave elite families and neighborhood groups a chance to show off their status and pride.

The festival begins with a line of elaborately costumed dancers and musicians carrying lanterns past city hall to a temporary shrine, which is erected for local deities. Soon after, neighborhood groups construct the elaborate floats that will dominate the streets on July 17 and July 24 when the festival’s two biggest processions occur.

Two types of floats, hoko and yama, are made for the special parades. These floats can be up to 80 feet tall and weigh over twelve tons. They are pulled through the streets by teams of locals and are elaborately decorated with carved statues, intricately woven fabrics and dyed textiles.

The three nights before the big parade days are considered parties where people visit the floats parked around the city, buy good luck charms, enjoy snack foods and cultural performances as the grand demonstration approaches.

Wealthy families will display collections of intricately painted screens and other cultural artifacts for the public to take in. Women dressed as geisha will serve drinks, and performances with traditional styles of music and dance will fill the streets.

With a deep history and full of new customs to engage with, the month-long festivities are sure to enhance anyone’s visit to Japan in July.

This story was created by Detour, a journalism brand focused on the best stories in Black travel, in partnership with McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald. Detour’s approach to travel and storytelling seeks to tell previously under-reported or ignored narratives by shifting away from the customary routes framed in Eurocentrism. The detour team is made up of an A-list of award-winning journalists, writers, historians, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.