Kyoto begins to buzz with excitement every year in May as the Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival), one of the three biggest festivals in the city, draws near. Though the festival procession itself falls on the 15th of the month, various rituals and ceremonial preparations begin to take place from the first week of May, drawing thousands of visitors and worshipers from around the country and from abroad. Centered on the Kamo Shrines (Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine), the festivities range from sedate purification rituals to high-paced horse races.
Each year on May 3rd at Shimogamo Shrine, one of these preparatory events begins at 1 pm within the green canopy of the Tadasu no Mori forest. The Yabusame Shinji, or Mounted Archery Ritual, is conducted to pray for the safety of the procession and to purify the parade route. Performed by archers of the Ogasawara school, a style that traces its history back about 850 years, riders thunder down a 500 m lane firing arrows at three targets along the way.
The sound of thundering hoof-beats growing closer and closer lets people know something exciting is about to happen, and each time an archer hits the target, a cheer can be heard from the assembled crowd. If you are in town for Golden Week or Aoi Matsuri, be sure not to miss this dynamic ritual and display of martial prowess!
Things to See/Do