Select Page
A decorated festival float is pulled down a narrow street, at gion festival 2024 kyoto

The decorated “moving museums” of yamaboko floats are a visual highlight of the Gion Matsuri. Minami Kannon Yama.

So you’re interested in visiting Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri 2024? Wonderful idea! Read on to ensure you have an enjoyable experience you’ll never forget.

You probably already know that the Gion Festival is Kyoto’s biggest festival, and one of Japan’s most famous. It’s a gigantic, month-long collection of countless purification rituals. These rituals are mostly Shinto, Japan’s indigenous, animistic spiritual tradition. 

Since the Gion Festival has taken place in Kyoto since the year 869, it’s also an unmatched cultural smorgasbord. Just about every artistic and cultural tradition that has flourished in Kyoto—spiritual traditions, textiles, painting, metalwork, wood carving, statuary, dance, theater, ikebana, tea ceremony, etc.—is well represented in the Gion Matsuri. 

How to plan your trip to Gion Festival 2024

 

A Gion Matsuri float is decorated with richly designed and colored exotic textiles and lit paper lanterns.
In general, there are three ways to enjoy the Gion Matsuri:

  1. Track down things you’re interested in or want to learn about (such as the cultural traditions above), to enjoy them in this unique festival context. 
  2. See what’s happening during the timeframe you have available and go from there. 
  3. Wander around the festival and enjoy the serendipity of whatever you experience.

Personally, I have always loved #3. I’ve enjoyed many magical experiences walking down the less-traveled back paths of Yasaka Shrine, the quieter yamaboko float neighborhoods, and mikoshi routes on the evenings of July 17 and 24.

 

Left: At Gion Matsuri 2024 you’ll enjoy night scenes like these. Kita Kannon Yama

I Wrote My Gion Festival Guidebook for You

But if this is not your style, I designed my book on the Gion Festival to help you navigate it by topic as well as by date. The eBook version is searchable and full of hyperlinks, so that you can more easily track your interests. Both the eBook and paperback include a comprehensive schedule put together over more than 25 years of my fieldwork at the festival. 

I’m not just trying to get you to buy my book (and I gift you a free chapter here so you can check it out). It took me decades to figure out what I was looking at and experiencing in the Gion Matsuri. I know most people don’t have the bandwidth or opportunity for that. 

I also wanted to share what I’d learned. It’s important that more people may appreciate and benefit from the Gion Festival’s beauty, deep meaning, and remarkable history. It’s a World Heritage Event, after all.

Right: You can enjoy many Japanese cultural traditions, such as tea ceremony, at Gion Matsuri 2024. Kikusui Boko.

 

Closeup of a hand pouring water for tea ceremony with tea ceremony utensils.
Golden folding screens are decorated with scenes from the four seasons. Part of the Gion Matsuri's byobu matsuri subfestival.
Geisha dance with fans on the Yasaka Shrine stage during the Gion Matsuri. They wear traditional Japanese skirts and long cream-colored robes and white face paint.
During the Gion Matsuri’s “byobu matsuri” (“folding screen”) subfestival—strong during the Ato Matsuri—historic families and companies display family heirlooms to the public. 
After the Gion Matsuri‘s Hanagasa Junko procession on July 24, geisha perform traditional dances on the Yasaka Shrine stage.

Gion Matsuri 2024: Entering a Vast Universe

The Gion Matsuri is vast, and seeing and doing everything may well be impossible. You’ll enjoy yourself more if you accept that and focus on quality (vs. quantity) of your experience. 

I’ve been attending the Gion Festival since 1989, and there are still things I haven’t seen or done. And every time I go, I am amazed and delighted by the new things I discover. 

I’ve also gotten very good at not succumbing to disappointment, boredom, or irritation while at the Gion Matsuri (these are awesome life skills!). Here’s how that works: 

  • Did you miss something? Don’t mind: another wonderful thing is sure to happen soon.
  • Is nothing happening? Take a breather for your next explorations.
  • Are the million other tourists cramping your style? We’re all in this together, which is kind of amazing.

Overtourism at Gion Matsuri 2024

Many umbrellas press together, as people watch elaborately decorated Gion Matsuri floats in the rain.
Speaking of the million+ annual Gion Matsuri visitors, overtourism has been a hot topic in Kyoto for several years now. If you travel internationally, you know it’s an issue in all the world’s most beloved destinations. 

Overtourism presents an interesting ko-an: Why do we humans love places in such ways that we make them unbearable to visit? As visitors, what else could we do? How else could we be?  

There are practical challenges involved, such as human overpopulation. Plus there’s the ratio between increasing accessibility of international travel and a lack of appropriate international savoir-faire. 

 

Left: Be prepared: crowds and rain are an integral part of Kyoto’s Gion Festival.

We’re All In This Together

I’ve had decades of crowded Gion Festivals to reflect on this carefully. And I think overtourism is a symptom of visitors choosing not to practice the Golden Rule. If we’re all treating one another well, then crowds would mean more of us to make one another happy.

And the great news is that we can each choose to practice the Golden Rule. It’s a moment-to-moment meditation!

Ill-behaved tourists invite our understanding and generosity. Didn’t 99% of us start out unintentionally ill-behaved when we first began to travel? Before we learned better? 

Can we help other newish travelers shorten this painfully awkward phase in ways they feel welcome? Can they help us remember to be more gracious?

 

Right: Several hoko await the start of the Saki Matsuri floats’ procession on July 17.
Japan's most famous festival: Several giant hoko lined up to await the start of the Saki Matsuri floats' procession on July 17.
One of Gion Matsuri 2024's countless rituals.

One of countless rituals within the gigantic purification ritual known as Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri. 

It’s All About Community

Keep in mind that almost everyone involved in the Gion Matsuri is a volunteer. They are doing this because they love it and because they would like to share their culture with you. That’s an incredible commitment, and we can reciprocate. While we’re at Gion Masuri 2024, we’re part of the community too. 

After attending the Gion Festival for over 30 years, I’m continually touched by how graciously and generously the community hosts us each year. It inspires me to try my best to be a good guest. For me, this relationship or dynamic has become another profound meditation, one that’s applicable no matter where I am. 

In general, members of the Gion Festival community behave rather subtly and gently. So I’d like to suggest that if someone gestures to you, you might be glad to pay close attention and follow their lead to the best of your ability. They may be letting you know the best route to enter or exit, where to take your shoes off, or that a particular place is off-limits. Responding thoughtfully is the difference between overtourism and cultivating international understanding on an increasingly small planet.    

Learn more about making the most of your visit to the Gion Matsuri on the Visit page and Part 2 of this blog. You can also check out my more practical blog for visiting Gion Matsuri 2023. Wishing you a wonderful time at Gion Matsuri 2024!

Verticle stacks of paper lanterns decorated with the Yasaka Shrine crests shine at night at the Gion Matsuri.

Paper lanterns decorated with Yasaka Shrine’s crests adorn each of the Gion Matsuri floats.

Keen to Learn More?

Enjoy the free resources on this site as my gift to you. And know that my bookThe Gion Festival: Exploring Its Mysteries, is even better. It’s full of context, history, information on each float, fun facts, tips for your visit, maps, and schedules.

 

Interested in sharing this content? Check out the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License for guidelines on how. These guidelines provide an easy way to grow a culture of generosity, in line with the philosophy of sacred commerce.

Access free interactive maps with locations and description of all 34 Gion Festival floats, plus procession routes!

We respect your email privacy.