There's never been a better time to visit Japan. Plan your trip today!

How Kyoto Lets Its Hair Down

To say Kyoto has a reputation for being conservative is an understatement. Indeed, whether among tourists who assume it’s merely a city of temples, shrines and museums, to Japanese people whose criticisms are based more on behavioral and linguistic quirks, Kyoto isn’t usually a place you associate with fun.

Now, I could provide a whole host of counterexamples to this, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that it’s true. There’s still one period of time you can come to Kyoto and experience unambiguous jubilation.

I’m speaking, of course, about the Kyoto Gion Matsuri, a festival that takes over the city in July of each year. Whether you want to attend Gion Matsuri 2024, 2025 or any year in the future, I think you’ll want to continue reading.

Need help planning your next trip to Japan? Commission a custom Japan itinerary!

When Does Gion Matsuri Take Place in 2024?

While it’s not accurate to say that the Kyoto festival lasts for all of July, there are more chances to see it than there are for other summer festivals around Japan. The main event of the Gion Matsuri, the Yamaboko Junko parade, takes place the mornings of July 17 and July 24. It follows a backwards-c shaped procession down Shijo-dori, up Kawaramachi-dori and back down Oike-dori on the 17th, and in reverse on the 24th.

During the three nights proceeding each of these parades, festival floats (called yama and hoko—there is where Yamaboko Junko gets is name from) are set up in the small streets just to the west of Karasuma-dori between Shijo-dori and Sanjo-dori. Alongside the lit-up floats, going to the yoiyama (night festival) you’ll be able to enjoy limited music and dance performances, as well as food and drink and a generally festival environment.

What to Do at Gion Matsuri

Pick a weekend


While the Gion Matsuri does not always fall over a weekend, as a traveler, you can think of it as if it does: The yoimatsuri take place on “Friday” and “Saturday” nights (“Thursday” as well, if you’re super freaky); the parade is on Sunday morning. Since there are few differences between the two weekends, I’d say simply to select the one that works best with your schedule.

Start with the night festival


Unless you only have one spare day, I recommend arriving to the Gion festival (at minimum) the night before the Yamaboko Junko. In addition to making it easy for you to get to the parade’s starting area in time, this will also allow you to experience the yoimatsuri. To me, whether in Kyoto or elsewhere in Japan, it is the nighttime festivals the really embody the matsuri atmosphere.

(And food)


It’s generally considered bad taste to eat while walking in Japan, but a summer festival tends to be an exception to this rule. As far as what to eat—well, that depends on you. Obviously, since it will be hot and you will be parched, kakigori (aka Japanese snow cones) are a popular option. However, all manners of other food are available, including a limited number of sit-down restaurants.

Save the best for last


Structurally, the Kyoto Gion Festival ensures an awesome payoff. Regardless of how many nights you do the yoimatsuri, and no matter how you spend the other days, the Yamaboko Junko makes sure your time here ends on a high note. For the rest experience, I recommend getting to the starting position at least 30 minutes before 9 AM to ensure you get a good spot.

(Maybe) head to Osaka next


If you choose the second “weekend” of Kyoto’s annual festival, then you can head straight to Osaka to partake in the aforementioned Tenjin Matsuri—well, kind of. You see, the first day of Osaka’s festival (July 24) is a bit boring and…preparatory. I recommend heading to the city and getting rested, so that you’re headed to go at Osaka Tenman-gu shrine at 3 PM sharp on July 25.

Is Gion Matsuri Worth It?

The year I did Gion Matsuri, I also attended the Tenjin Matsuri in nearby Osaka, plus the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri and Akita Kanto Matsuri up in Tohoku. While Kyoto’s festival felt somewhat muted in comparison, particularly in the case of the Tohoku ones, it nonetheless eased me into the matsuri mood, which I don’t think would’ve been as easy if I’d started up north. (Kyoto is also generally an easier city to enjoy than Akita or Aomori, to be fair.)

I’d say that if you plan to be in Japan (and reasonably close to Kyoto) during the middle of Japan, then it’s definitely worthwhile to attend the Kyoto matsuri. This is true—especially so, maybe—if you think you won’t have time to attend other festivals. At worst, it will plant a seed in you to go further out of your way to attend other festivals in the future.


Other FAQ About Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri

Do you need tickets for Gion Matsuri?

You don’t need tickets simply to spectate upon Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri, although there are reserved seating areas if you wish to sit down while watching the parade. Indeed, part of why I love the festival so much is that you can pop in and out as you please—it really is a public spectacle.

How long does Gion Matsuri last?

The Yamaboko Junko parade lasts several hours—from 9:00-13:00 on July 17, and from 9:00-11:30 on July 24. However, the festive mood sets in over Kyoto during the evening of July 14, when the first yoiyama (night festival) begins near the Shijo-Karasuma interaction. These night festivals also occur on July 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23.

How much does Gion Matsuri cost?

The Gion Matsuri is free to attend if you simply wish to walk amid the yoiyama and to watch the parade while standing or walking beside. However, seat and VIP tour packages can often cost several thousand yen, depending upon where you buy your package and how far in advance you purchase it.

The Bottom Line

Kyoto Gion Matsuri flies in the face of Kyoto’s conservative reputation when it takes over the city every July. Whether you’re planning to come in 2024, or are planning a Gion Matsuri 2025 trip far in advance, I hope this post has been helpful from a practical perspective, but also in terms of helping you set expectations for what the festival will feel like. the Kyoto matsuri lasts longer than most others in Japan, and takes up more real estate within the city, which makes it slightly easier to attend. Need personalized help incorporating Gion Matsuri into your trip? Consider hiring me to plan a custom Japan itinerary!


Subscribe to email updates!


Words, images and design ©2018-2024 Robert Schrader, All rights reserved. Read Privacy Policy or view sitemap.