July 15 - 17
Gion Matsuri is one of the top 3 biggest Festivals celebrated in Japan. It is celebrated to keep away bad omens such as disease and natural disasters. Dating back to the late 6th century, Gion matsuri was held as a religious purification ritual, but by the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333), it had become a way for craft merchants families to show off their wealth and goods. Each night, downtown Kyoto's streets become filled with stalls of food and game vendors, and people dressed in summer kimono. The most spectacular display are the 32 elaborately decorated Yama and Hoko (large wooden floats), that remain immobile around different areas of downtown, and are later paraded down the streets as a finale closing to the festival on the 17th. These Yamaboko are decorated with lanters, ornate tapestries, and features traditional Japanese instruments being played. Dance and music performances are showcased in the streets of downtown Kyoto that remains closed over 3 nights.
Other Events in July
Yoiyama festival is held on the eve of Gion Matsuri. It is one of Kyoto's biggest attractions. Over 400,000 people gather that eve to watch the city come to life before one of Japan's biggest festivals takes place. Big city streets and roads get blocked off for the mass pedestrian flow. Its even difficult for bikers to get through the crowd.
This children's festival celebrates the meeting of Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair). The Milky Way, a river made of stars separates these lovers, and they are only allowed to meet once a year. On this day, Children write their wishes, sometimes in poetry form called tanzaku, on paper decorations and to adorn the branches of bamboo.
July 20 - 23
Mitarashi Matsuri celebrates the purifying powers of a deity enshrined at Shimogamo Shrine. In the evening, One wades into knee deep water in the stream that flows through the shrine, lighting a candle at one end and leaving it on a special tiered pedestal at the other. After wading out, one is invited to drink purified water which is believed to ensure a summer of health and vitality. As with many festivals, food and game stalls line the walkway to the shrine.
In the evening, prayer sticks are burned and visitors are led by mountain priests to walk over burning coals. The fire-walk is safe for all participants and serves to purify the worshipper and give protection from illness. Protective paper talismans are handed out in the end.