The famous Aoi Matsuri (Aoi Festival) is held in Kyoto on May 15th, recreating the noble Heian period procession of the imperial messenger and an imperial princess serving as a ceremonial priestess as they make their way to the Kamo Shrines. But even before this important day there are several influential rituals held on the grounds of the Shimogamo and Kamigamo Shrines starting May 1st. One of these rituals, the Kamo Kurabeuma, occurs at Kamigamo Shrine on May 5th each year, starting at approximately 2 pm.
First held in 1093, the Kamo Kurabeuma is said to be the origin of horse racing in Japan. Unlike modern horse races, however, the two horses at the Kamo Kurabeuma do not start at the same location and race to see who will cross the finish line first. With two teams, the Sakata (wearing vermilion, traditionally representing Kamigamo Shrine) and Ukata (wearing black/brown, traditionally representing Iwashimizu Hachimangū), one horse starts a decided length in front of the other, and the winner is decided based on whether that distance between horses shortens or elongates by the end of the race.
The ritual is usually six rounds, with the first given as a win to Kamigamo Shrine's team in honor of their historical victory at the first Kamo Kurabeuma almost a thousand years ago.
The day consists of three different parts: a morning ritual, prayers for safety and success by the riders, and the dramatic races themselves. With explanations of the event given in both Japanese and English, you won't want to miss a second of this exciting ritual!
Things to See/Do