The Gion Festival

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The Fune Boko (Ship Float) make waves through downtown Kyoto during the 17 July procession.

Within Kyoto’s extraordinary Gion Festival, gods, myths and legends intermingle with ancient history, culture and contemporary everyday life. Learn more here, the most comprehensive English-language website dedicated to Gion Festival, one of Japan‘s largest and most famous festivals.

Enjoy interpretive videos shot live from the Gion Festival on our YouTube channel, and posts from the same on the Facebook page. Comments and questions welcome there.

Internet challenges?

Click on “eBook” in the menu above for the pdf / reading app solution we offer you.

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The Kankō Boko musical troupe with their sacred doll, all together on the float only during the 17 Jul procession.

New to this site?

Browse this page and the menu pages at the top for an overview of the festival. Next go to the Saki Matsuri and Ato Matsuri webpages (links there also in sidebar at right) for details on these two parts of the festival and each of their 33 floats.

Festival Overview

Starting in the year 869 C.E., the Gion Festival was originally undertaken to appease malevolent spirits believed to cause deadly illnesses in Kyoto‘s sweltering midsummer. These roots remain today in the festival’s many aspects as an enormous purification ritual, including rituals and prayers for a year full of goodness and free of harm for Kyoto City, its residents and festival visitors.

Today it continues to offer a luxurious smorgasbord of spiritual traditions: Shintō, Zen, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam and paganism. Japanese and international artistic treasures are also found in abundance.

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The Gion Festival: a neighborhood celebration that now welcomes more than a million visitors.

Some other boons have persisted over the centuries: the delight of discovering unusual and precious treasures, learning, and an excuse for a good celebration, including time with family and friends, eating and people watching.

Global Relevance

With more than a millennium of rich history, the Gion Festival comprises an excellent case study for sustainability. As we recognize the benefits and imperative of living sustainably together on this planet, what can we learn from this festival and its community, and their thousand-plus years of history? Put on annually by thousands of volunteers, the event is a fascinating self-organizing institution, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage event. What about the festival has made it so meaningful to so many people for more than a millennium? What makes it meaningful and worthy of our interest and support today?

Why this website? 

For over twenty years I could find little quality information about this event in English, and so I explored the festival on my own, with curiosity, inquiry, notebooks, dictionaries, cameras and audio recorders. My heart followed. This website bears fruit from many festival participants generously sharing their interest, knowledge, love, fortitude and humor. May it enrich your experience of the Gion Festival, and help ensure that many future generations will enjoy the profundities of its exquisite offerings.

New to this site?

Once more, get started with the top menu for a festival overview. The 33 eye-catching floats each have their own webpage, accessed via the webpages on the festival’s two parts, Saki Matsuri and Ato Matsuri, and the links in the sidebar at right.


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