Aoi Matsuri–Kyoto’s Majestic Hollyhock Festival

Ten days ago, Japan celebrated Children's day by flying long, colorful koi-shaped flags over private homes and displaying samurai helmuts and dolls related to heroic themes.  Scrolls were hung in private tokonoma alcoves depicting themes of bravery and strength.  Tea bowls with related motifs were taken out of storage for their once-a-year visit to tearooms.

Today is May 15th.  From 10:30am this morning, I stood in front of the Imperial Palace and watched one of Kyoto's oldest annual events: a parade featuring 600 people dressed in the clothes of the Heian Period (794-1185).  For the past 1400 years, Aoi Matsuri has functioned as a prayer for the welfare and well being of the people in this city.

The festival originally came about in the 7th century as a means to win gain the favor of two dieties:  one god enshrined in Shimogamo Shrine and the other enshrined in Kamigamo Shrine.  The name Aoi (hollyhock) Festival came from the hollyhock leaves that were traditionally considered to be an effective way to protect against disease and disasters.  Today, many of the participants wore hollyhock leaves on their hats.

 

There are many ancient and majestic festivals that are celebrated each year in this city.  Today's Aoi Festival, the Gion Festival in the summer, the Festival of the Ages in October are only three out of hundreds of events that celebrate life with festivities involving seasonal beauty.  And, just as was done for Children's day on May 5th, for weeks prior to each of these occasions, anticipation was encouraged with many gestures that announce its coming.