Saio-dai (The heroine of Aoi Matsuri Festival)

Saio-dai (The heroine of Aoi Matsuri Festival)

Saio-dai of Aoi Matsuri Festival is presented here. Saio-dai, founded in 1956, is modeled after Saio (Saiin), who served at Kamo Shrine (Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine) and served Aoi Matsuri Festival after the Heian period (794-1185). Saio-dai is also called the heroine of Aoi Matsuri Festival because of the glittering costumes she wears, such as the junihitoe (twelve-layered robe).

【Saio-dai Announcement】

Saio-dai announcement is usually scheduled to be made around early to mid-April.
Roto-no-gi (procession) of Aoi Matsuri Festival will be held on Wednesday, May 15th, 2024, at 10:30. However, in case of inclement weather, it will be postponed to the following Thursday, May 16th. In addition, Roto-no-gi may be canceled if it rains during the procession. At Roto-no-gi, the procession consists of about 500 people dressed in Heian period (794-1185) costumes, about 40 horses, 4 cows, 2 gissha (ox carts), 1 koshi (palanquin), and it is about 1 km long.
Aoi Matsuri Festival 2024

【Basic knowledge of Aoi Matsuri Festival】

It is said that Aoi Matsuri Festival began during the reign of the 29th Emperor Kinmei (539-571) in the late Kofun period. During the reign of Emperor Kinmei, wind and flood disasters caused famine and epidemics, and Urabe no Ikiwakahiko’s fortune telling said that it was a curse from Kamo-no-Okami, so the festival was held on a lucky day in April, when horses were hung with bells, people wore boar heads, and the horse race was held, which is said to be the origin of Aoi Matsuri Festival. Aoi Matsuri Festival is officially called Kamo Matsuri Festival (Kamo Festival), but it is called Aoi Matsuri Festival because the people involved in the festival and even the shrine curtains and oxcarts are decorated with futaba aoi (two-leaved aoi) on a katsura branch.

【Overview of Saio-dai】

Saio-dai, which was founded in 1956, following the example of Saio (Saiin) who served at Kamo Shrine (Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine) and served at Aoi Matsuri Festival after the Heian period (794-1185). Saio-dai is chosen from unmarried women with ties to Kyoto City, and is usually announced to the public in April each year. The Aoi Matsuri Gyoretsu Hozonkai (Aoi Matsuri Procession Preservation Society) selects Saio-dai from among women associated with Kyoto and accustomed to wearing kimonos, based on recommendations from people involved in the tea ceremony.

【List of successive Saio-dai】

The 1st Saio-dai was Arata Fumiko (Ekigaku Aya).
2023 – Matsui Hina, 2022 – not elected, 2021 – not elected, 2020 – not elected,
2019 – Oino Rika, 2018 – Sakashita Shiho, 2017 – Tomita Sayo, 2016 – Nishimura Waka,
2015 – Shirai Yusa, 2014 – Ota Risako, 2013 – Nagase Maiko, 2012 – Kamei Atsuko,
2011 – Kanai Shiho, 2010 – Kawasaki Asaya, 2009 – Sen Makiko, 2008 – Murata Shiho,
2007 – Morikawa Kanae, 2006 – Fujita Nanako, 2005 – Saito Ayako, 2004 – Kano Mari,
2003 – Yamada Rina, 2002 – Kurato Ayako, 2001 – Kashima Keiko, 2000 – Satake Aki,
1999 – Yoshida Kaori, 1998 – Doi Yuuko, 1997 – Yamada Nana, 1996 – Oshima Akemiko,
1995 – Oshima Sumiko, 1994 – Ikenobo Mika, 1993 – Yamamoto Kazuko, 1992 – Izawa Mami,
1991 – Oshima Yumiko, 1990 – Nishimura Kazuna, 1989 – Yamada Yoko,

【Costumes of Saio-dai】

Saio-dai has a white face and black teeth, wears the junihitoe (twelve-layered robe), has a metal ornament called kokoroba on the top of her osuberakashi hair, has decorative strings called hikagenoito on either side of her forehead, holds a hi-ogi (fan), and wears a red tatou on her chest. The junihitoe (twelve-layered robe) is also called “Itsutsuginumo no Karaginu” or “Karaginumo Shozoku”, and is said to weigh about 20 kilograms. The name “junihitoe” is derived from the number of “uchiiki (uchigi)”, which is represented by “hitoe” and the junihitoe consists of 12 (juni) pieces of “uchiiki (uchigi)”.
★The makeup and dressing has been done for 59 years by Minami Tomiko, a trained beautician and 3rd generation owner of the Minami Beauty Salon, where maiko also visit. It is said that it takes an hour and a half to put on the junihitoe (twelve-layered robe). The white paint on the face was originally pure white, but recently it has become more reddish, the bridge of the nose is raised, the eyebrows are thicker, and the lipstick is slightly larger than that of the traditional “ochobo-guchi,” and it seems to be in keeping with tradition and the times. In addition, Minami Tomiko was selected as the “Modern Master of Kyoto Prefecture” in 2016.
★In 2008, among the junihitoe (twelve-layered robe), the omotegi (outer garment) with a tortoiseshell pattern, the karaginu with an aoi (hollyhock) pattern on a pink background worn over the omotegi (outer garment), and the mo with a white pine jacket worn over a hakama to decorate the back were renewed at a cost of 5.5 million yen. The omotegi (outer garment), karaginu, and mo are all made of pure silk and were made by a professional weaver, Kitagawa Hyoji (a human national treasure).

【Saio-dai Misogi-no-gi】

Before Roto-no-gi (Period Procession) of Aoi Matsuri Festival, Saio-dai purifies herself and purifies the sins and impurities by Saio-dai Misogi-no-gi. At Kamigamo Shrine, Saio-dai dip both hands into the Nara-no-Ogawa (stream), and at Shimogamo Shrine, Saio-dai dip both hands into the Mitarashi-ike (pond). However, Saio-dai Misogi-no-gi is a one-year rotation system for Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine. By the way, Saio used to perform misogi in the Kamo-gawa River.

【The origin of the Saio-dai】

Saio (Saiin), the origin of the Saio-dai, was once chosen from among the unmarried daughters of the emperor, either the Naishinou or the Joou. After two years of purification at the palace’s Sho-Saiin, Saio (Saiin) served while living a clean life, avoiding impurity and Buddhist rituals, and many of them remained celibate for the rest of their lives. The daughter of the 62nd Emperor Murakami, Princess Senshi Naishinou, served at Saio (Saiin) from 975 to 1031, a period of more than 50 years, and was also known as Dai-Saiin (Saio, Great Saio). The 1st Saio (Saiin) was Uchiko Naishinno, the daughter of the 52nd Emperor Saga, when the Kamo Saion was established at Kamo Shrine (Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine) in 810. Emperor Saga was in conflict with his older brother, the 51st Emperor Heijo, and prayed to Kamo-no-Okami, the deity of Kamo Shrine, to consecrate the princess as an Are-Otome who would serve in the ceremony of welcoming the deity to Kamo Shrine, and after the victory in the Kusuko-no-hen (Kusuko Incident) of 810, Uchiko Naishinno became the 1st Saio (Saiin). Saio (Saiin) was founded after the example of Ise Saio, who served at Ise Jingu Shrine in Mie. However, it is said that later, due to the distance from Kyoto, the Saio of the nearby Kamosha Shrine was more respected than that of the distant Ise Jingu Shrine.

【Kamo Saiin】

Kamo Saiin, where Saio (Saiin) served, began in 810 in the early Heian period (794-1185), and after the Genpei conflict that occurred at the end of the Heian period (794-1185), it often ceased to exist, and gradually declined in the Kamakura period (1185-1333). In 1212, the 35th generation Saio (Saiin), Princess Iyako Naishinou, the third daughter of the 82nd Emperor Go-Toba, was retired, and then the Jokyu-no-ran broke out in 1221, and Kamo Saiin, which had lasted for about 400 years, was abolished. The ruins of Kamo Saiin are located at the Ichiidani Nanano Shrine (Chiekoin Higashi-iri Kamigo-mae, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto), and a memorial has been erected.

【Kamo Kyokusui-no-En】

In addition to serving at Aoi Matsuri Festival, Saio-dai also serves at Kamo Kyokusui-no-En held at the Kamigamo Shrine and presents themes at Kamo Kyokusui-no-En. Kamo Kyokusui-no-En is a reenactment of the elegant Kyokusui-no-En of the Heian period (794-1185), in which a sakazuki (sake cup) was floated down a river and waka poem was recited before the sakazuki (sake cup) passed in front of the waka poet. Kamo Kyokusui-no-En is said to have its origins in Kyokusui-no-En, held in 1182 at the end of the Heian period (794-1185) by the priest, Kamo no Shigeyasu, who invited 15 to 16 poets.

【Saio-dai (The heroine of Aoi Matsuri Festival) remarks】
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  1. 錦市場(Nishiki Market)
  2. 竹林の道(Bamboo Forest Path)
  3. 嵐山