July sees the most important festival in Kyoto’s yearly calendar take place: the Gion Matsuri. There are preceding events leading up to the big day, showing off the spectacular yamaboko (parade floats) that will travel in procession through downtown Kyoto on the festival day itself.
Float at Yoiyama with illuminated lanterns, Gion matsuri festival: twoKim images / Shutterstock.com
1 July 2018
Event: To-ji Temple Flea Market
Location: To-ji Temple
If you can’t be in town for Kyoto’s two famous flea markets (Kobo-san Market and Tenjin-san Market), this is a good choice. Like the Kobo-san Market, it’s held on the grounds of To-ji Temple. You’ll usually find a good selection of antiques at this market.
1-14 July 2018
Event: Ajisai Matsuri
Location: Sanzen-in Temple
If you feel like a trip out of the city, there are few better destinations than the village of Ohara, which is a mere 30 minutes north of Kyoto by bus. And if you ever needed a good excuse to make the trip, the Ajisai (hydrangea) Matsuri is it. Held at the superb temple of Sanzen-in, a short walk uphill from the bus stop in Ohara, the Ajisai Matsuri showcases the myriad hydrangeas that bloom in the temples wonderful garden. For more on Ohara, see our Daytrip to Ohara page.
1-22 July 2018
Event: The 150th Anniversary of his Birth: Yokoyama Taikan
Location: The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
Time: 9:30am-5:00pm (enter by 4:30pm)
Closed: Mondays (except national holidays)
Held at the National Museum of Modern Art in the lovely Okazaki Museum District, this museum celebrates the work of Yokoyama Taikan, who was active in the first half of the 20th century. His work might appear traditional to Western eyes, but his approach was modern from the Japanese perspective.
7-8 July 2018
Tanabata is a Japanese festival that celebrates the meeting of two celestial lovers (Orihime and Hikoboshi) who are represented by the stars Vega and Altair. Separated by the Milky Way, these two lovers are allowed to meet once a year, during Tanabata. Kodai-ji Temple has a special evening light up event to celebrate this celestial romance. It’s a nice time to see the gardens illuminated to create an otherworldly effect.
14-16 July 2018
Event: Gion Matsuri, Sakimatsuri Yoi-yama etc
Location: Shijo-dori Street and Nearby Downtown Streets
Time: late afternoon until around 10pm
The three evenings leading up the main main Gion Matsuri parade (see later entry) are known as Yoiyoiyoi-yama, Yoiyoi-yama and Yoi-yama (that’s one “yoi” for the number of days until the festival). On these evenings, the yamaboko (parade floats) that will appear in the festival are displayed in Shijo-dori Street and on nearby downtown streets. The streets are closed to vehicle traffic and citizens and visitors stroll the streets, many dressed in yukata (lightweight summer robes). Street stalls sell food and drink and the atmosphere is fun and festive. Don’t miss it. For more details, see our main Gion Matsuri page.
15 July 2018
Chion-ji Temple hosts a fabulous handicraft market on the 15th of every month. It’s a great place to pick up unique, locally made souvenirs during your travels to Kyoto. It’s also a good chance to see Japan’s alternative community and local expats.
Ladies at Gion Matsuri – image © Jeffrey Friedl
17 July 2018
Event: Gion Matsuri Floats Parade (yamaboko junko), Sakimatsuri
Location: Shijo st., Kawaramachi st., Oike st.
Time: starts at 9:00am from Shijo-Karasuma
The largest and most important festival of the Kyoto yearly calendar, the Gion Matsuri culminates in a huge parade of yamaboko (huge wooden festival floats) on 17 July through downtown Kyoto. The parade starts at 9am at Shijo-Karasuma, heads north along Kawaramachi around 9.45am, and turns west on Oike around 10.30am, before ending at Shinmachi at around 11.30am. The parade itself is rather long and slow moving. It’s usually sufficient to take in a few yamaboko before taking refuge somewhere from the heat (the festival day is usually blazing hot). For my money, the earlier Yoiyama festivals (see preceding entries) are more fun and cooler, since they are held in the evening. For more details, see our Gion Matsuri page.
Shijo Street, Gion Matsuri – image © Jeffrey Friedl
20-29 July 2018
Held on the four days surrounding the Day of the Ox at Mitarashi-no-yashiro, a subshrine in the precincts of Shimogamo-jinja Shrine, this interesting festival involves people wading in a shallow stream here to pray for good health and protection from disasters. When you pay the admission fee, you’ll be given a candle to light and offer to the gods. Don’t worry if the wind blows it out – this happens to most candles. You can also write your wish on a foot-shaped prayer card to place in a basin of water. But, the main act here involves wading through the shallow river here.
Shimogamo shrine: beeboys / Shutterstock.com
21 July 2018
Event: Kobo-san Market
Location: To-ji Temple
Named for Japan’s most revered Buddhist Saint, Kobo Daishi, this market is one of the two best markets in town (the other being the Tenjin-san Market, held on the 25th). You’ll find all manner of goods on sale here including used kimono, antiques, ceramics, food, bric-a-brac, old postcards and books, and assorted Japanalia. In addition to being a great market, this is also a chance to see Kyoto’s foreign community, which turns out in full, along with hoards of locals.
24 July 2018
Event: Gion Matsuri Floats Parade (yamaboko junko), Atomatsuri
Location: Oike st., Kawaramachi st., Shijo st.
Time: starts at 9:30am from Karasuma-Oike
If you can’t be in town for the main Gion Matsuri float procession held on 17 July (see earlier entry), don’t miss this small float procession involving 10 yamaboko parade floats. The procession starts at around 9.30am and ends at around 11.30am. The route is essentially a reverse of the course of the main procession. For more details, see our main Gion Matsuri page.
25 July 2018
Event: Tenjin-san Market
Location: Kitano Tenmangu
Like the Kobo-san market (see previous), this is one of the two best markets in town. It’s named for Sugawara no Michizane, a 9th century poet and scholar who is the patron saint of academic pursuits in Japan. Known colloquially as Tenjin-san, the market is a great excuse to visit this shrine and see people, especially school children, rubbing the two stone bulls in front of the main hall of the shrine (doing so is said to make one more intelligent). Like the Kobo-san market, this is a great chance to buy used kimono, ceramics, antiques and bric-a-brac, along with food and drink. You’ll also rub shoulders with an interesting assortment of expats and locals.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com - usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too.
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router.
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass - here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- Get travel insurance for Japan - we recommend World Nomads (and here's why)