A number of UNESCO Heritage Sites, National Treasures and Special Places of Scenic Beauty, what else can make you go to the ancient capital?
Try Jidai Matsuri. It’s one of the three great festivals of Kyoto, along with the Aoi Matsuri and Gion Matsuri. All three are celebrated annually on October 22, May 15 and July 17 to 24, respectively.
I opted to finalize my first Kyoto trip on an October. It’s a two in one deal: to catch the Jidai Matsuri and watch the season turn the foliage to red and gold.
The Jidai Matsuri aka Festival of the Ages is a parade reenacting history, when people marched from Kyoto to the new Japanese capital, Edo. It’s a colorful spectacle of authentic costumes that represent various periods and characters in Japan’s feudal past.
The original march transpired during the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when the Emperor of Japan with the Imperial family, the Imperial Palace and thousands of government officials and subjects relocated to Tokyo, the new city.
In 1895, when the first Jidai Matsuri was inaugurated, the city government also built the Heian Shrine to enshrine the spirit of Emperor Kanmu, who founded Heian-kyo (the former name of Kyoto) in 794.
It was on the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Heian-kyo when the city government and the Kyoto prefectural government created the Jidai Matsuri. Its purpose was not only to commemorate its history but also to dispel of the fear that the city’s glory will fade from the people’s memory. With the plan, a staged costume procession representing the eras in Kyoto’s history was included to the plan to add meaning to the festival.
In the 20th century, in 1940, Emperor Komei was included to the Jidai Festival’s honor list for his deeds in the unification of Japan, the power of the imperial court and the declaration of Kyoto as the center of Japan at the end of the Edo period and the decline of the Tokugawa shogunate.
If there is proof that Kyoto’s history remains unforgettable, the present Jidai Matsuri proves it.
The participants have grown to 2,000 from the original 500 when it was conceived and stretches for two kilometers. The procession takes about five hours from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the Heian Shrine.
The festival kicks off early in the morning at the Kyoto Imperial Palace where the mikoshi (portable shrines) representing Emperor Kanmu and Emperor Komei are brought out so people can pay their respects.
I’m glad I made it to Kyoto at this time of the year. At noon, history unfolded along the streets of Kyoto and I caught the parade as it made its way along Karasuma Street.
It is indeed a Festival of Ages where the pride of spirit of the Kyoto-ites put on display. The Jidai Gyoretsu (historic pageant), run and participated by the citizens of Kyoto, displays more than 12,000 items: costumes of the Meiji Restoration, Edo, Azuchi-Momoyama, Muromachi, Yoshino, Kamakura, Fujiwara and Enryaku Periods; furnishings; festival instruments and more, all of which have been verified of their historical accuracy.
Samurais, military figures, geishas other characters in their elaborate costumes paraded before me, and probably took more than an hour before the entire stretch passed where I stood.
The Jidai Matsuri, one off the bucket list. October 22 is a memorable date for me now. However, the date is too early for the foliage to wear its autumn colors. For that, I will have to head back to the ancient capital again.
Also published in the SunStar Davao newspaper.