The Gion Festival
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 the Gion Festival. It’s one of Japan‘s largest and most famous, festivals, and designated as a World Heritage Event by UNESCO.
Enjoy interpretive videos shot live from the Gion Festival on our YouTube channel, and posts on the GionFestival.org Facebook page. Comments and questions welcome there.
New to GionFestival.org?
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 to those also in sidebar at right) for details on these two distinct parts of the festival and each of their 33 floats.
Gion 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 many ways the Gion Festival is an enormous purification ritual. It includes rituals and prayers for a year full of goodness and free of harm for Kyoto City, its residents and festival visitors.
And though Japan is often stereotyped as a homogenous country, it’s spiritually very open-minded: Japanese people are keen to accept “whatever works” into their spiritual cosmography. Consequently, the Gion Festival features an abundance of spiritual traditions: Shintō, Zen, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam and Greek mythology.
It’s a secular extravaganza as well. Besides world-class street food and people watching, you can seek out or chance upon a wealth of Japanese and international artistic treasures.
Today we enjoy the same boons that Gion Festival-goers have for centuries! Delight in discovering unusual and precious sights and sounds, learn about things you’re unlikely to experience elsewhere, and most of all, celebrate a good time! Gion Festival has a long tradition of connecting with family and friends, dressing up, eating and drinking, and getting lost in the colorful crowds.
Gion Festival’s Global Relevance
With more than a millennium of rich history, the Gion Festival comprises an excellent case study for sustainability. More and more, we’re recognizing the benefits and imperative of living sustainably together on this planet. Then 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. What about the festival has made it so meaningful to so many people for so many generations? What makes it meaningful and worthy of our interest and support today?
For over twenty years I could find little quality information about this event in English. And so I explored the festival on my own, equipped 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 may it help ensure that future generations enjoy the profoundness of its exquisite offerings.
Click on “eBook” in the menu above for the reading app solution we offer you, downloadable as a pdf.
New to GionFestival.org?
Once more we recommend you start off 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 (July 10-17) and Ato Matsuri (July 18-24), and the links in the sidebar at right.