WHATS ON: Calendar for Kyoto

What's on in Kyoto now

WHAT’S ON: Calendar for Kyoto

Kyoto’s 2,000 temples and shrines host several festivals throughout the year, so there’s usually something going on somewhere, and it’s likely to be colourful, upbeat and fun. You’ll find participants in period costumes and onlookers in kimono or yukata, praying for good fortune and connecting with their forebears in all manner of captivating ways, from burning effigies to hurling soy beans.

Most festivals are free, but the geisha dances command advance booking and fees of around ¥5,000. As the kaburenjo (training centres) usually only open for one short period each year, when the tickets go on sale, they are hot commodities.

Perhaps because the city is so rich in religious festivals, it is conspicuously short on secular events such as art fairs, film or music festivals, although during warmer seasons you’ll discover small, impromptu parties on the banks of the Kamogawa river, around Sanjo Bridge.

If you wish to avoid the crowds, stay away from the cherry blossom or autumn leaves seasons. Other major holidays include New Year (28 December to 4 January) and Golden Week (29 April to 5 May), when many stores and restaurants close, and accommodation prices rise.

For full listings of forthcoming festivals, and maps to their sites, visit the Tourist Information Centre on the ninth floor of Isetan in Kyoto Station.


January 1-5

Hatsumode Shinto shrines

The first shrine visit of the year, with Yasaka and Heian Jingu drawing the biggest crowds.

January 4

Kemari Hajime Shimogamo Jinja

Men in Heian period costume play an ancient ball game.

2nd Mon

Seijin no Hi (Coming of Age Day) Yasaka Jinja and other locations

People turning 20 years old in this financial year head to shrines in their best kimonos and suits for blessings.


Tezukuri-ichi Market Chion-ji

A market of handmade arts and crafts held in the grounds of a temple near Kyoto University. The market takes place on the 15th of every month.

Sun nearest 15 Jan

Toshiya Sanjusangen-do

Around two thousand young men and women in kimonos re-enact an ancient archery contest.

21 Kobo-san Flea Market To-ji

The first flea market of the year takes place at Toji. There are antiques, food and vintage kimonos on sale. The market takes place on the 21st of every month.



Mibu Kyogen Mibu-dera

Staging of Mibu Kyogen, a performing art that is designated an Important Cultural Property.

3 Setsubun Yoshida Jinja, Heian Jingu, Yasaka Jinja and elsewhere

Last day of lunar winter marked by hurling soy beans to exorcise demons.


Valentine’s Day

Women give chocolate to men in the local take on the romantic festival.

Mid Feb-mid March

Plum Blossom Viewing Kitano Tenmangu, Nijo Castle and elsewhere

The flowering of plum trees is greeted with more restraint than the approaching cherry blossom.

23 Godairikison Nin’no-e Daigo-ji, Fushimi

Competitors test their strength by lifting oversized rice cakes.

25 Baikasai Kitano Tenmangu

An outdoor tea ceremony performed by geiko and maiko under lovely plum blossom.


Mid March Kyoto Hanatoro

Streets and major temples in Higashiyama are lit by lanterns. www.hanatouro.jp/e/index.html

Mid March Start of the Football Season www.j-league.or.jp/eng

Mid March Kyoto City Half Marathon Heian Jingu

This annual half marathon draws 8,000 runners.

Mid-late March Osaka Grand Sumo Tournament

Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium The spring grand sumo tournament takes place a short ride from Kyoto.


White Day

A follow-up event to Valentine’s Day, in which guys give chocolate to girls.

15 Saga Nenbutsu Kyogen,Taimatsu Shiki Seiryo-ji

A kyogen play takes place in the afternoon and otaimatsu (giant torches) are burned in the evening to commemorate the Shaka Buddha.

15-17 Kiyomizu-dera Seiryu-e Kiyomizu-dera

An effigy of the guardian dragon Seiryu is paraded around the temple.

Late March-early April Hanami(Cherry Blossom Viewing) Maruyama Park and elsewhere


First weekend Kamogawa Sakura Festival

Kamogawa riverside, between Shijo and Sanjo food stalls Spotlight cherry blossom and performance art along the Kamo riverbank. www.sakura-matsuri.com

First weekend Kyoto Yosakoi Kyoto Ward Office square, Shinpukan, Karasuma Dori and elsewhere

More than 70 amateur dance troupes perform around the city. www.sakuyosa.com

Early April Start of the Baseball Season

1-30 Miyako Odori Gion Kobu Kaburenjo, Gion

Cherry blossom-themed dances are performed by Gion’s geiko and maiko. www.miyako-odori.jp

3 Kiyomizu Seiryu-e Kiyomizu-dera

An effigy of the guardian dragon Seiryu is paraded around the temple.

2nd Sun Yasurai Festival Imamiya Jinja

Men dressed up as demons parade through the streets to appease diseasespreading birds.

Mid April Benishidare Heian Jingu

Classical music concert amid spot-lit cherry trees.

Mid-late April Kitano Odori Kamishichiken Kaburenjo

The geiko and maiko of the Kamishichiken troupe perform plays and dances. www.maiko3.com/event/kitano.html

21-29 Mibu Kyogen Mibu-dera

A performance of Mibu Kyogen (mimed Buddhist morality plays) in Mibu-dera temple.

29 April-5 May Golden Week

A string of national holidays, which together form one of Japan’s most popular holiday periods.

May Ongoing Golden Week (see April) 1-24 May Kamogawa Odori Pontocho Kaburen-jo Geiko and maiko perform traditional dances in an event dating back to 1872.

1 May-20 Sept Kawadoko Noryo Al fresco food and drink along the Kamo and Kibune rivers.

3 Yabusame Shinji Shimogamo Jinja Archery in Heian-period dress. www.shimogamo-jinja.or.jp

5 Kurabeuma-e Jinji Kamigamo Jinja Horse race with jockeys in traditional costumes, staged here since 1093. www.kamigamojinja.jp

15 Aoi Festival Kyoto Gosho to Shimogamo Jinja, Kamigamo Jinja One of Kyoto’s big three festivals. Costumed participants retrace the imperial procession.

3rd Sun Mifune Festival Kurumazaki Jinja Boats carry imperial-costumed participants up the Oji river in Arashiyama.

June Ongoing Kawadoko Noryo (see May)

10 Tuesai Festival Fushimi Inari Taisha Girls in Heian period costumes perform otomai dance to pray for a good harvest. 30 Nagoshi no Harai Kitano Tenmangu Sinners step through a five-metre wreath to atone for the sins of the first six months of the year.


Ongoing Kawadoko Noryo (see May) 1-31 Gion Festival The biggest and best festival with geisha, floats and portable shrines parading along Shijo Dori.

Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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