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Japan: Kyoto (Jidai Matsuri)

The Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages), which began in 1895, is one of the largest festivals in Kyoto and takes place on October 22nd, the day during which the city became the capital of Japan in the year 794. The festival is in essence a historical reenactment parade with participants dressed in authentic costumes representing various periods and characters during Kyoto’s 1,074 year reign. The festival also commemorates the founding of the Heian-jingu Shrine, which was built to slow the city’s decline following the transfer of the capital to Tokyo in 1868.

The parade began as a small event with only six procession lines and has grown over the years to include twenty procession lines consisting of 2,000 participants and over 70 horses, which wind their way from the Old Imperial Palace to Heian-jingu Shrine. The procession is separated into historical eras and then further separated into themes. The parade begins with characters from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and continues in reverse chronological order until the beginning of the Heian period in 781. The festival’s honorary commissioners head the parade riding in horse drawn carriages. Following them are figures from the Meiji Restoration. There are marching bands with drums and flutes and soldiers who would have fought with the imperial forces, as well as some of the era’s most notable figures, including Sakamoto Ryoma. The largest group in the parade depicts the extravagant convoys sent by the shogun to represent him at important imperial ceremonies in Kyoto during the Edo period (1603-1867).

The Jidai Matsuri begins early in the morning with the mikoshi (portable shrines) carried out from the Old Imperial Palace. The procession starts in the afternoon and ends approximately 2 hours later at the Heian-jingu Shrine.

It is interesting to note that on July 25th, 1998, the 40th anniversary of Paris becoming Kyoto’s sister city, that the Jidai Matsuri was transported abroad for the first time. The procession began at the Arc de Triomphe and passed through such places as the Concord Plaza and the Louvre. Approximately 400 Kyoto citizens along with 260 Japanese residents of France joined local French participants in the parade, drawing over 200,000 spectators!

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Official Web page: http://www.kyoto.travel/kyoto_jidai_matsuri_festival_o.html

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