Japan has a lot of things you can do. There are their wonderful views and scenic places of beauty. There is also their delicious cuisine that is sought in Japan by foreigners to get a taste of authenticity. Aside from their food and breathtaking attractions, there also exists their fun and entertaining festivals that happen annually. Visitors can enjoy several festivals that happen in Japan but there are 3 major festivals that happen per year which is namely the Aoi Matsuri, Gion Matsuri, and the Jidai Matsuri. You should definitely have all these festivals on your list of things to experience in Japan but if you have a particular interest in the history of Japan, you’ll surely want to go to the Jidai Matsuri before any of the other Japanese festivals.
The History behind the Jidai Matsuri and the Parade that Happens in the Festival
The Jidai Matsuri, when translated, literally means “Festival of the Ages”. This name fits the festival so well because it is an event that celebrates and commemorates a large portion of Japanese magnificent history. Despite it being celebrated in a day’s length, it is able to show both tourists and locals how the periods like the Meiji Restoration, Edo, Muromachi, Yoshino, Azuchi-Momoyama, Kamakura, Fujiwara, and Enryaku were like during those eras. You can think of it as a huge Halloween party where people go in costumes but only of characters from Japanese history.
This festival has been celebrated in Kyoto for over 122 years but its origins go further back, specifically to the year of 1868, during the Meiji Restoration. This was the year that the power in Japan moved from Kyoto to Tokyo due to the relocation of the Emperor of Japan as well as the Imperial family and government officials. Kyoto remained a great city even after the relocation of power but the Kyoto prefectural government, at the time, feared that it would hurt Kyoto’s reputation. This led them to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Heian-Kyo or Kyoto.
Some years past and the time when the city government finished building the Heian Shrine for the purpose of enshrining the spirit of the city’s founder, Emperor Kanmu, in the year of 1895, was also the year when the first Jidai celebration occurred. To make its meaning more concrete to the people, the government also started the parade which still happens to this very day. In the year of 1940, the city government decided to honor Emperor Komei as well during the festival for all the work he did towards unifying the country during the power struggle of the imperial court at the decline of the Tokugawa shogunate and the end of the Edo period.
These two great emperors of Japan are given honor with the use of the mikoshi or a portable shrine because the shrine is supposedly representing the two emperors. During the early morning of the festival, the mikoshi is taken outside of the Kyoto Imperial Palace and is left there until the parade is to start. This is done for people to be able to give their respects to the mikoshi. The parade starts in the afternoon and you’ll know when that time comes because this would also be the time when you’ll see around 2000 performers dressed up in all kinds of historic attires like the people in the wardrobe of samurais, military figures, and geishas. You’ll even see people wearing the outfits of the commoners during those eras so it really makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time.
Once everything and everyone is in place, the mikoshi is carried from the palace to the Heian Shrine through a precise route. This route is two kilometers long and it runs through the Marutamachi Station, Karasuma Oike Station, Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Station, Sanjo Station, and Higashiyama Station. The whole procession lasts as long as five hours and strangely enough, this surprises some people because two kilometers can easily be traveled in a much shorter time. The reason behind this is because of the size of the crowd. Remember that thousands of people participate in the parade so it would surely take a while, an hour on a usual to be certain, for the entire parade to pass a certain area. Knowing this should guide you to where it is ideal to watch the parade from. This is obviously great news for visitors because it would essentially take you just an hour standing in a good spot, specifically and usually at the start or end of the parade’s route, to see all the historical costumes that this parade has to offer.
The Jidai Matsuri in Kyoto and in Tokyo
As mentioned earlier, the Jidai Matsuri has been celebrated in Kyoto for over 122 Years and it consistently happens on the 22nd day of October. In the year of 1999, Tokyo also started celebrating a festival called the Jidai Matsuri to boost Asakusa’s presence as a city that holds cultural and historical importance to Japan. It was to be the main attraction for the event called Tokyo Renaissance that happens in Asakusa. The Jidai Matsuri celebrated in Tokyo happens on the 3rd of November. Sadly, both Kyoto and Tokyo Jidai Matsuri dates on the calendar never reach the cherry blossom season that these cities are also known for. Nevertheless, the festivals these cities hold are still well worth it despite the absence of their budding cherry blossoms.
The Tokyo Jidai Matsuri and the Kyoto Jidai Matsuri are very similar because there exists the historical parade for both these festivals but there are certain differences in how they do it. As you now know, the Kyoto Jidai Matsuri involved a mikoshi that honors the two emperors that did great things for Japan and the city of Kyoto. The Tokyo Jidai Matsuri, on the other hand, honors no emperor for its founding or anything of that nature. This festival simply celebrates the history and culture of the city on this day. If the Kyoto festival honors the eras involving the Meiji Restoration and alike, the Tokyo festival honors the periods of Japan from the 7th century until the present times now. This span of time covers Tokyo’s Heian era up to the Meiji era and more. The Tokyo festival also has a considerably lower number of participants for its parade because it averages only 1600 participants in comparison to the average 2000 participants that join the Kyoto parade.
Like the Kyoto festival, the Tokyo Jidai starts its parade at 1:30 PM as well. Its route starts at the Sensoji Temple and it passes through the areas of Umamichi-dori as well as Kaminarimon-dori and the parade ends at the Asakusa Tawaramachi. The Kyoto parade takes about 5 hours to finish but the Tokyo parade only takes about 2 hours because it usually finishes by 3:30 PM. This difference in parade time can be contributed to the crowd that joins in comparison to the crowd that participates in Kyoto. Another factor to this time difference is the shorter route taken by the parade in Tokyo as compared to the route of the Kyoto parade.
What to Look Forward to for the Jidai Matsuri in 2018, How to Get Tickets, and Why the 2017 Festival Got Cancelled
There is a rule that people follow with regards to when the festival will push through. As always, the Jidai Matsuri is scheduled on October 22nd of each year. They obviously cannot proceed with the procession if the weather conditions are bad so in those cases, it is automatically to be continued on October 23rd. If the bad weather conditions continue onto the 23rd, the Jidai Matsuri for that year is already considered canceled which means you’ll have to wait another year to experience this. This is exactly what happened this 2017 which explains why there was no festival this year.
With these conditions being said, as tourists, it would most probably be best if you also check the weather forecasts and reports for these dates if you intend to go see the festival. This is the best way for you not to waste time and money because if you go to Japan for the festival and then the festival doesn’t push through due to rain or other constricting weather conditions, then all the time, effort, and money you spent would be for nothing and no one would ever want that. Since there was no festival in 2017, you can already expect that the organizers of the event would add a little extra dazzle to the coming 2018 festival to make up for the missed festival of this year. Keep in mind that this is a traditional event so not much can change to how it is done so although they are sure to add something to make up for last year, you shouldn’t expect too many changes.
Admission to the festival is free but this does entail you to be standing the whole time you are watching the event. If this would be a problem for you, you can book tickets to access their paid seating. Booking this ticket would give you a reserved seat in front of the Kyoto Imperial Palace which is where the parade starts. It also gives you seats in certain areas that approach to Heian Shrine which is where the parade ends. These paid seating tickets cost about 2050 yen and can be bought beforehand at convenience stores in Japan or JTB travel agencies.
If your sole purpose for going to Kyoto is to see the Jidai Matsuri, it would be recommendable to book a hotel or ryokan near the area of the parade so that you can easily go to and from the areas of the procession and the festival. Booking a room nearby would also be a great advantage for you during the night because having a place to stay nearby removes the stress of commuting home after a long and tiresome day. There are plenty of establishments in that area that offers affordable accommodations like the Ryokan Motonago. All you need to do is search for an ideal place for you to stay online but be quick about it because the Jidai Matsuri is a popular festival so slots in these hotels and ryokans may run on fast for these dates.
All you need to survive and enjoy the festival is already around the area of the festival. You just have to make a solid plan on how you want to go about the festival and where you want to stay before and after that and you should be good to go. This festival will teach you so much about Japan’s history in a way that no museum can compare. The costumes you will see there are as authentic as you can possibly imagine so it’s a great avenue for educating yourself with the progression of Japanese attires as well as their beliefs and values. As long as the weather conditions are great, you should be sure to enjoy this historic festival in Japan.