Each year on May 15, Kyoto sees the Aoi Festival, one of the three most important religious festivals. It consists of an elegant procession through the main streets of Kyoto, where more than 500 people don beautiful traditional costumes from the Heian Period (the peak flourishing of Japanese art and culture, where even the name “Heian” stands for “peace and tranquility”).
The name Aoi comes from the hollyhock (aoi) leaves that decorate the costumes and ornaments used in the parade.
The 700 m long colorful parade leaves from the Kyoto Imperial Palace and goes north to the Kamo shrines: Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine, two of the city’s oldest shrines, whose deities are known as protectors of Kyoto.
It’s an extraordinarily picturesque event where you can see men on horses, huge flower bouquets, beautifully adorned ox drawn carts, and young women clad in elegant kimono.
There are two main characters in the festival: the Imperial Messenger and the Saio-Dai.
The Imperial Messenger is the one who leads the ceremony on horseback.
The Saiō-Dai’s role is to maintain ritual purity and to represent the Emperor. She is played by an unmarried woman and she is chosen each year. She wears an exquisitely colored traditional kimono, which comes in 12 layers and weighs no less than 30 kg!