Considered one of the three most important festivals in Kyoto, the Aoi Matsuri takes place on the 15th of May each year. It is held by the important Kamo Shrines, Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine, and the origins of the festival can be traced all the way back to rites performed to appease the gods and pray for bountiful harvests in the 6th century. It was established as a more formal annual ritual in the 8th century Heian period when Kyoto became the capital and the Emperor recognized the importance of the Kamo shrines to the capital's prosperity. Because of the aoi (hollyhock) leaves pinned to the participants' hats, clothing, and carts, it earned the colloquial name of Hollyhock Festival over its original Kamo Festival title.
Leading up to the Aoi Matsuri are many interesting and exciting pre-rituals and ceremonies, but the main event is the grand parade on the 15th. Starting from the site of the former Imperial Palace, hundreds of participants dressed in Heian period clothing form two processions (the first parade made up of men, the second of women) and make their way to the Kamo Shrines, performing rites and making offerings at each. The first procession is the Imperial Messenger's, accompanied by court nobles, soldiers, and offerings. The second, the Imperial Princess's, is made up of noble women, ladies in waiting, and priestesses. This is a stately and aristocratic parade, and watching the Aoi Matsuri go by while listening to the ox carts’ distinctive creaking allows the viewers to feel like they've been transported back in time to the Heian capital.
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