Aoi Matsuri is one of the 3 main festivals in Kyoto hosted by Shimogamo and Kamigamo shrines. More of a procession than a festival, people in brightly colored costumes of the ancient Heian court parade down the streets of Kyoto, some on horse-back, some walking along-side beautifully decorated carriages. The procession starts at the Imperial palace, stopping at Shimogamo shrine in the south and arriving at Kamigamo shrine. The festival originated in the sixth century when relentless storms destroyed the fall harvest. It was believed that the Kamigamo and Shimogamo deities were angry with the disrespect of the people. Emperor Kinmei (540 - 571) had special rites performed at the shrines, and from then on, the storms quieted.
Other Events in May
Night of the Full Moon
On the night of the full moon in May Kuruma Temple hosts this festival on the night of the full moon in May in dedication to the Buddhist protector deity, Bishamonten. It is the only Himalayan-style full moon event in Japan. Prayers by participants and offerings of fresh water are offered to the moon, and a host of lanterns are lit.
Third Sunday of the month
This event takes place on Oigawa in Arashiyama and is hosted by nearby Kurumazaki shrine, known for its deity of the performing arts. 3 main boats carry people dressed in Heian court dress playing instruments, chanting poetry, reciting poetry and Noh plays, or dancing. These boats lead 30 other smaller boats also carrying costumed performers. The ritual originated in the 6th century to welcome the Emperor when arriving into town. Rowboats and pedal boats can be rented near the Arashiyama bridge area to view this spectacle up close.