The “Later Festival:” July 18-24
The festival is divided in two parts: the larger saki matsuri (“early festival,” from July 10-17) and smaller-scale ato-matsuri (“later festival,” from July 18-24).
See the links in the Ato Matsuri drop-down menu at right for more information on the various yamaboko floats.
As the later counterpart to the saki matsuri, the ato matsuri is when the Kyoto townspeople pay their respects to the Yasaka Shrine deities. It’s similar to a ritual bidding the deities farewell before they go back to Yasaka Shrine, until they return the following year. It’s also a way for each of the float’s own deities to purify or bless the city and its people for the upcoming year.
In truth the processions and festival are highly secularized. While some festival patrons have a deeply spiritual connection with the festival and its deities, for many its appeal lies in its history, culture, or community.
Floats are constructed and the display areas are organized beginning from July 18th with the Ōfune Boko, followed on the 19th with the large yama: Minami Kannon Yama, Kita Kannon Yama plus Koi Yama, followed by the other yama on the 20th.
Everything is on display to the public on July 21, 22 and 23, from about 9am until around 9pm.
Meanwhile, local residents and companies share the spirit by displaying their own private treasures, in a subfestival called the byōbu matsuri or “folding screen festival.” With 11 floats, the ato matsuri is about half the size of the saki matsuri, and street stalls are not a part of the ato matsuri. This makes it less crowded, with more of the neighborhood feel of yesteryear.
The procession of floats takes place on July 24. The route is the same as the saki matsuri, but in the opposite direction.
In addition to the festival returning to its original dual format in 2014, in the same year Ōfune Boko was “relaunched” after a 125-year absence. With ongoing economic challenges, tsunami- and radiation-related concerns, this dual phoenix-like recovery gave Kyotoites and Japanese much to celebrate.