Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages)
The Jidai Matsuri is one of Kyoto’s three largest festivals along with the Aoi and Gion festivals. Even though the Festival of the Ages sounds steeped in hundreds of years of tradition, it actually started in 1895, the year the Heian Shrine (replica of original Imperial Palace) was built.
After the political capital moved to Tokyo (after the Meiji restoration in 1868), Kyoto city officials tried to maintain Kyoto’s relevance. The Heian Shrine and festival were meant to commemorate the 1100th year since the Heian capital (Heiankyo) had been established on October 22, 794 in Kyoto. It emphasized Kyoto’s historical and cultural importance.
The local organization responsible for building Heian Shrine thought it would be interesting to add a procession featuring the various eras since Heiankyo was established. The procession always begins with the Meiji Restoration (1868) and stretches back more than 1,200 years to the Heian Period (794-1185).
Major periods represented:
Meiji Restoration (1868)
Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1600)
Muromachi Period (approximately 1336-1573)
Kamakura Period (1185-1333)
Heian Period (794-1185)
Start: 12:00 (Imperial Palace)
End: 14:30 (Heian Shrine)
View Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages) in a larger map
The festival is held annually on October 22nd (subject to weather). It is made up of 2,000 people outfitted in colourful garments, elaborate amour and other pieces befitting the nobility and samurai classes. Around 70 animals (horses and oxen); a procession that stretches two kilometers long starts at the Imperial Palace and winds its way through the streets of Karasuma and Oike until it finishes at Heian Shrine. The regal garments, armour and weapons are some of the interesting highlights of the different periods.
I recommend starting at the Imperial Palace and find a spot along the walkway north of the southern gate of the Imperial Palace, closer to the front where you will see two omikoshi (portable shrines) representing Emperor Komei (last emperor of Kyoto) and Emperor Kanmu (first emperor of Kyoto). Other good spots along the route are the intersections included in the route map above. There is actually reserved seating at certain places (Imperial Palace, Oike Street, Heian Jingu Street) along the route, however unless you are in need of seating, you are able to find some good vantage points regardless.
For further inquiries about reserved seating, call the Kyoto Tourist City Association 75-752-0227. Also, flash photography is prohibited because it may startle the horses and oxen.
◊ Information referenced from Heian Jingu Home Page & Kyoto City Tourism Association
◊ Pictures by Greg Koch