The history of Gion Matsuri Festival (869 to present)

The history of Gion Matsuri Festival

The history of Gion Matsuri Festival is presented here. Gion Matsuri Festival originated in 869, when a plague broke out in Kyoto and all over the country, and was attributed to the curse of Gozutenno (Susano-no-mikoto). The history of Gion Matsuri Festival began in the early Heian period (794-1185), and has a history of over 1,000 years. However, during its long history, it was interrupted for 33 years due to the Onin War (1467-1477).

【Gion Matsuri Festival Schedule (confirmation required)】

●Gion Matsuri Festival 2024 will start on July 1st, 2024 and end on July 31st, 2024.
Gion Matsuri Festival Schedule (July 1st-31st)

【The Prehistory of Gion Matsuri Festival】

★In 863, a plague broke out, and the first Goryoe was held in Shinsen-en Garden (Imperial Garden) to appease the ekijin (plague god) and the onryo (grudge) of the dead. However, since the plague continued after that, Goryoe was often held to pray for good health by enshrining Gozutenno (Susano-no-mikoto), who was also the main deity of Yasaka Shrine, where Gion Matsuri Festival was held. Gozutenno was a god of the Shinbutsu syncretism, and was considered as the guardian god of the Gion Shoja, where Shakyamuni Buddha preached. Gozutenno was also the suijaku of Yakushi Nyorai, the head of the Eastern Joruri World, and was considered to be the honji of Susano-no-mikoto. Yakushi Nyorai, also known as “Dai-Iou” or “Iou-Zenzei”, holds a yakko (medicine jar) for healing diseases in his left hand and his right hand represents the sign of “Semui”, which takes away the heart of fear and saves people.

【The beginning of Gion Matsuri Festival】

★In 869, the plague broke out again, Gion Goryoe, which is said to be the origin of Gion Matsuri Festival, was held to pray for the expulsion of the disease. The plague was the curse of Gozutenno, and the Jingikan Urabe no Hiramaro erected 66 hoko (spears), which is the same as the number of countries in Japan, in Shinsen-en Garden (Imperial Garden), transferred evil spirits to the spears to purify them, enshrined Gozutenno, who is said to be the incarnation of Yakushi Nyorai, and sent three mikoshi (portable shrines) from Yasaka Shrine. The origin of Gion Matsuri Festival is said to be Gion Goryoe held in 869. It is said that Gion Matsuri Festival in the past was a strong Buddhist festival, such as sutra chanting.

【The middle of the Heian period (794-1185)】

★Since 970, Gion Matsuri Festival has been held every year in June of the lunar calendar. On June 7th, a ritual was held to welcome the mikoshi (portable shrine) and on June 14th, the mikoshi (portable shrine) was sent. From the imperial court and others, Umaosa, Dengaku, Shishi, etc. were dedicated to Gion Matsuri Festival. There is also a theory that Gion Matsuri Festival was founded in 970.
★In 974, Hata no Sukemasa, who lived in Higashinotoin Takatsuji, received an oracle from Yasaka-no-okami, who said, “Make your house a place of appearance, and report to the imperial court immediately”, and the 64th Emperor Enyu had the same dream, and Hata no Sukemasa’s house became Omandokoro Otabisho and a shinden (shrine building) was built there. At Omandokoro Otabisho, Omandokoro Mikoshi (Gozu Tenno (Susano-no-mikoto)) and Hachioji Mikoshi (Yahashira-no-mikogami, eight children of Susano-no-mikoto) were enshrined. In addition, Emperor Enyu ordered that the mikoshi (portable shrine) to cross the Kamo-gawa River and pass through Heian-kyo. It is also said that Gion Matsuri Festival became a government festival.
★In 999, Mukotsu built a sakuyama (tsukuriyama) similar to the Shimeyama of the Daijo-sai, which is the Niname-sai held immediately after the emperor’s enthronement ceremony. The Shimeyama consisted of two tsukuriyama set up in the garden, and various designs were applied to two tsukuriyama to represent the auspicious shozui. This sakuyama (tsukuriyama) is said to be the origin of the Gion Festival’s Yamahoko float and Yamahoko-Junko (Float Procession, Yamaboko Parade).
★In the middle of the Heian period (794-1185), in the “Makura no Soshi” written by Sei Shonagon, Umaosa of Gion Matsuri Festival is described, and Sei Shonagon noted Umaosa.

【The end of the Heian period (794-1185)】

★It is said that in 1069, 50 groups of the dengaku participated in the procession, and the dengaku and the sarugaku also began to be performed.
★It is said that Shoshoi Otabisho was built in 1136. Shoshoi Mikoshi (Harisainyo (Kushiinadahime-no-mikoto)) was enshrined in Shoshoi Otabisho.
★In 1172, the 77th Emperor Go-Shirakawa donated three mikoshi (portable shrines).

【The Kamakura period (1185-1333)】

★Gion Matsuri Festival became even more lively from the end of the Heian period (794-1185), and during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), decorated the hoko and the naginata (long sword) began to participate in the procession. According to an article dated July 24th, 1321, “Hanazono Tenno Shinki,” it is recorded that the tsudumiuchi (drummers) played the furyu-no-bukyoku (dance music) around the hoko-syu, who were surrounded by the hoko.

【The Nanbokucho period (1337-1392)】

★In 1376, according to the “Gogumai-ki” written by Sanjyo Kimitada, it is recorded that no Shinto rituals were held during Gion Matsuri Festival and the parade of the hoko was held as in previous years. It is also recorded that some people died when large kodaihoko fell over, and it is said that during the Nanbokucho period, the hoko were not small like the ken-hoko (sword hoko), which were carried by one person, but were larger. It is said that around this time, the large hoko similar to Yamahoko float used in today’s Gion Matsuri Festival appeared.
★It is said that Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the 3rd shogun of the Muromachi shogunate, saw Yamahoko float together with Zeami, a sarugaku master in 1378. Incidentally, during the Muromachi period (1336-1573), the Ashikaga shogunate also presented the kusemai-kuruma, which performed kuse-mai on the kusemai-kuruma.

【The Muromachi period (1336-1573)】

★Naginata Hoko was founded in 1441 or earlier, and Naginata Hoko is said to be the oldest of Yamahoko floats in the current Gion Matsuri Festival.
★At some point during the Muromachi period (1333-1573), due to the influence of Enryaku-ji Temple, Yasaka Shrine became a branch shrine of Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, the guardian deity of Enryaku-ji Temple, and when Hiyoshi-sai (Sanno-sai) of Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine was not held, Gion Matsuri Festival was canceled or postponed. It is also said that when Gion Matsuri Festival was not held, Awata Matsuri of Awata Shrine was held instead. Yamahoko float of Gion Matsuri Festival are said to have been modeled after the ken-hoko (sword hoko) of Awata Matsuri.
★In 1467, the Onin War (1467-1477) broke out, and Gion Matsuri Festival was temporarily suspended for 33 years.

【The Sengoku period (1493-1590)】

★In 1500, Gion Matsuri Festival was revived by the townspeople. According to the “Gionshaki”, 26 Yamahoko floats were paraded on June 7th, and 10 Yamahoko floats were paraded on June 14th. According to the “Gione Yamabokogoto” written by Matsuda Buzen-no-kami Yorisuke, an official of the Muromachi shogunate, which he heard from the elders, there were 60 Yamahoko floats (32 Yamahoko floats on June 7th and 28 Yamahoko floats on June 14th) before the Onin War. Kujitori-shiki, in which the order of Yamahoko-Junko (Float Procession, Yamaboko Parade) is determined by the lottery, was first held at the private residence of Matsuda Buzen-no-kami Yorisuke.
★In 1504, the 104th Emperor Go-Kashiwabara saw Gion Matsuri Festival.
★In 1533, Gion Matsuri Festival was postponed due to the postponement of Hiyoshi-sai (Sanno-sai) of Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, but the townspeople appealed for “shinji nakutomo yamahoko watashitashi (no the Shinto rituals, want to parade Yamahoko float)”, and although the ritual was canceled, Yamahoko-Junko (Float Procession, Yamaboko Parade) was carried out. It is said that since that time, more attention has been paid to Yamahoko-Junko (Float Procession, Yamaboko Parade) than to the Shinto rituals at Gion Matsuri Festival.
★On June 2nd, 1582, the Honnoji-no-hen (Honnoji Incident), in which Oda Nobunaga committed suicide, occurred and Gion Matsuri Festival was postponed to November.

【The Azuchi Momoyama period (1573-1603)】

★In 1591, by order of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Omandokoro Otabisho and Shoshoi Otabisho, where three mikoshi (portable shrines) were enshrined, were merged into the present Yasaka Shrine Otabisho (Shijo Otabisho, Gion Otabisho) in Shijo Teramachi.
★After the Azuchi Momoyama period, Gion Matsuri Festival became even more magnificent, as depicted in “Rakuchu Rakugai-zu (National Treasure)” by Kano Eitoku. “Rakuchu Rakugai-zu” was painted by Kano Eitoku and presented to Uesugi Kenshin by Oda Nobunaga. In the current Yamahoko floats, Fune Hoko, Iwato Yama, Niwatori Hoko, Hakurakuten Yama, Kanko Hoko, Toro Yama, and Shijokasa Hoko are depicted.

【The Edo period (1603-1868)】

★In the Edo period, the furyu-gyoretsu (procession) of geiko (geisha) from Gion was held.
★The Hoei-no-taika (Great Fire of Hoei) in 1708, the Tenmei-no-taika (Great Fire of Tenmei) in 1788, and the Genji-no-taika (Great Fire of Genji) in 1864 occurred, and Yamahoko floats were burned down.

【After the Meiji period (1868- )】

★After the Meiji Restoration, due to the separation of Shintoism and Buddhism and Haibutsu-kishaku, the name of Gion Matsuri Festival was changed from Gion Goryoe to Gion Matsuri, and the name of Yasaka Shrine was also changed from Gion-sha Shrine to Yasaka Shrine. In 1967, Former Festival Yamahoko-Junko (Float Procession, Yamaboko Parade) on July 17th and Latter Festival Yamahoko-Junko (Float Procession, Yamaboko Parade) on July 24th were combined into a joint parade on July 17th.
★In 2009, Yamahoko event of Gion Matsuri Festival was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. In 2014, Latter Festival Yamahoko-Junko (Float Procession, Yamaboko Parade) was revived, and Former Festival Yamahoko-Junko (Float Procession, Yamaboko Parade) was held on July 17th, and Latter Festival Yamahoko-Junko (Float Procession, Yamaboko Parade) was held on July 24th.
★2019 marks the 1,150th anniversary of Gion Matsuri Festival. In 2020 and 2021, major events of Gion Matsuri Festival, such as Yamahoko-Junko (Float Procession, Yamaboko Parade), were canceled due to the influence of the new coronavirus.

【The history of Gion Matsuri Festival remarks】
*Events may be rescheduled or cancelled. Also, the content of the event may have changed.


  1. 錦市場(Nishiki Market)
  2. 竹林の道(Bamboo Forest Path)
  3. 嵐山