The Aoi Matsuri, or "Hollyhock Festival," is one of the three main annual festivals held in Kyoto, Japan, the other two being the Festival of the Ages (Jidai Matsuri) and the Gion Festival. It is a festival of the two Kamo shrines in the north o
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May 19, 2014 - PRLog -- The Aoi Matsuri is one of the oldest and most celebrated festivals in Japan. So much so, the word “Matsuri” originally referred only to the Aoi festival. Full of pageantry, the festival transforms the usually tranquil parklands into a big costume party, with people dressed in Heian period (794–1185) court regalia parading from the Imperial Palace. Full of pomp and occasion, it culminates at the Shimagamo Shrine, where the townsfolk celebrate with dancing and games, like archery competitions and horse races. It is where formality is infused with folklore and laughter.
According to the ancient historical record known as the Nihon Shoki, the festival originated during the reign of Emperor Kinmei (reigned CE 539 - 571). The ancient records known as the Honchō getsurei and Nenchūgyōji hissho reveal that a succession of disastrous rains with high winds ruined the grain crops, and epidemics had spread through the country. Because diviners placed the cause on divine punishment by the Kamo deities, the Emperor sent his messenger with a retinue to the shrine to conduct various acts to appease the deities, in prayer for a bountiful harvest. These included riding a galloping horse.
This became an annual ritual, and the galloping horse performance developed into an equestrian archery performance. According to the historical record known as the Zoku Nihongi, so many people had come to view this equestrian performance on the festival day in the 2nd year of the reign of Emperor Mommu (r. 697-707) that the event was banned.
In the ninth century, Emperor Kanmu established the seat of the imperial throne in Kyoto. This represented the beginning of the Heian Period in Japanese history. Emperor Kanmu recognized the deities of the Kamo shrines as protectors of the Heian capital, and established the Aoi Matsuri as an annual imperial event.
The festival saw its peak of grandeur in the middle of the Heian Period, but this waned in the Kamakura Period and the following Muromachi Period, and as the nation entered the Sengoku Period, the festival procession was discontinued. In the Genroku era (1688–1704) of the Edo Period, it was revived, but in the 2nd year of the Meiji Period (1869), when the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, observance of the festival procession stopped. In Meiji-17 (1885), it was again revived as part of a government plan to enliven Kyoto. All but the rituals at the shrine fronts were discontinued from 1944, due to World War II. At last, the festival procession started to be held again from 1953. The Saiō-Dai festival princess tradition was initiated in 1956.
The festival has been called Aoi festival for the hollyhock leaves used as decoration throughout the celebration. These leaves were once believed to protect against natural disasters.