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Aoi Festival

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Oxen pull a festival carriage to the shrine.

One of the biggest events on the festival calendar in Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital, is the Aoi Festival of Kamigamo Shrine, held on May 15. This festival is one of the most solemn and graceful festivals in the country, and it has been well preserved since the eighth century, when it first started.


The festival came to be known by its present name in the Edo period because the paraders and carriages were decorated with distinctive aoi (hollyhock) leaves.


It's a very popular festival that includes a procession of about 500 people clad in the elegant and ornate dress of the ancient imperial court and gorgeous carriages pulled by oxen. The festival consists of a private imperial service, a Shinto ritual, and a parade from the Imperial Palace in Kyoto to Kamigamo Shrine.


When people talk about the Aoi Festival, they usually mean the parade and the courtly music and dances that are performed along the way.


The festival began with the court officials in the Heian period (794-1185) who made an outing to offer their prayers at the Kamigamo Shrine, as well as the Shimogamo Shrine just to the south. The parade attracted many onlookers a thousand years ago, just as it does today, and the event has been the subject of many literary and artistic works.