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The Gion Festival: Exploring Its Mysteries

New book by Catherine Pawasarat.

Available soon.

The Gion Festival: Exploring its Mysteries intimately covers this renowned 1150-year-old festival. Stunning photos of priceless artwork complement explanations of legends and esoteric secrets. Learn why the festival is an ancient purification ritual supported by community efforts, worthy of admiration, and respectful participation.

For lovers of Japanese culture who want to navigate the festival with finesse, this book is a must have.

Gion Festival Book

Book Endorsements

"Spiritual, communal, and artistic facets of the magnificent Gion Matsuri are plainly explained in this comprehensive guidebook."

At long last, the spiritual, communal, and artistic facets of the magnificent Gion Matsuri are plainly explained in this comprehensive guidebook. The author’s personal knowledge and deep commitment to the sustainability of the festival places this guidebook in ground-breaking territory.

John Einarsen, Founding Editor, Kyoto Journal

"A whole new perspective of the Gion Matsuri that I had never known before."

I grew up immersed in the traditional world of Kyoto culture. But Catherine’s book showed me a whole new perspective of the Gion Matsuri that I had never known before.

Yuka Tsuen, President of Tsuen Tea International, 24th generation tea vendor

"Offers insights into both the beauty and significance of this complex festival."

Catherine Pawasarat’s book offers insights into both the beauty and significance of this complex festival, and in doing so, unlocks some of the mysteries at the cultural heart of this 1200-year-old city.

Diane Durston, Author and Curator of Culture, Art and Education, Portland Japanese Garden

"A must-have for anyone traveling to Kyoto for the summer festivities."

With background stories on the historical and religious roots of the festival, and detailed information on each individual yamaboko float, as well as links to interactive maps, Pawasarat’s guide to the Gion Festival is a must-have for anyone traveling to Kyoto for the summer festivities.

Marc Peter Keane, garden designer, author of Japanese Garden Notes.

"The definitive guide to the Gion Festival."

The Gion Festival is the most important annual traditional event in Japan – and one of the richest cultural celebrations anywhere in the world. Yet until now there has never been a book devoted to it in English. Catherine Pawasarat’s book, a labor of love involving decades of experience and research, will remain for many years to come the definitive guide to the Gion Festival.

Alex Kerr, Author of Another Kyoto

"Never previously available in English, it is an invaluable aid to personal exploration."

This publication is the closest approximation to the as-yet non-existent museum catalog. Providing comprehensive descriptions never previously available in English, it is an invaluable aid to personal exploration. Its maps are detailed, as is the events schedule, and links are provided to a companion website, including YouTube videos.

Ken Rodgers, Managing Editor, Kyoto Journal

About The Book

From the book:

The Gion Festival: A month of rituals, five processions, countless deities, shrines and portable shrines, thirty-four floats, antique treasures and fine arts, otherworldly music, an array of spiritual traditions, family heirlooms on display, kimono, people-watching, thousands of dedicated volunteers, more than 1150 years of history—the Gion Festival is truly a world-class celebration.

Presented annually by thousands of volunteers, the Gion Festival is a fascinating self-organizing institution. With more than a millennium of rich history, it offers an excellent case study for sustainability and community resilience.

 From the Kyoto Journal book review:

“The purpose of this book is to raise awareness and appreciation of the unique value of this tradition, as a way of contributing to its long-term survival. A wealth of information is provided on its history, associated events, and how to access specific sites where individual floats and their treasures can be viewed up close in truly astounding detail. Descriptions of their sumptuous decorations, especially textiles (both Kyoto-crafted, and from as far afield as medieval Europe) may inspire even long-term residents to revisit with fresh eyes.”

What’s the festival really about? It’s an enormous Shinto purification ritual. “Shinto” means “Way of the Deities,” or nature spirits. It’s shamanism, Japanese style.


 Interview Videos with Author Catherine Pawasarat

The Origins of the Gion Festival

Why I Wrote a Book on Gion Festival

About the Book Release

About the Festival

Experience. Understand. Appreciate.

This 1150-year-old purification ritual celebrates:


The Buddha of compassion


Fearless warrior-monks


A Shamanness Empress


The power of community


A Zen master


Priceless artistic treasures


Nature-mystic monks

About the author.

Gion Festival Author Catherine Pawasarat

Catherine Pawasarat is a U.S.-born English and Spanish literature major who went to Kyoto, Japan in 1989, learned the language, and became a journalist, interpreter, translator, and editor. She specialized in sustainability, human rights issues, and traditional Japanese arts.

Her residence in a traditional Kyoto townhouse in the heart of the famous Gion Festival neighborhood in the early 1990s marked the beginning of decades of fieldwork on this gigantic, 1,150-year-old purification ritual and its community.

She lived in the Brazilian Amazon for a year in the late 1990s to study plant medicine. Shortly after she returned to Kyoto, met Buddhism and meditation teacher Acariya Doug Duncan, and began an intensive spiritual apprenticeship rare in the West. Together with students and other supporters, they founded the Clear Sky Retreat Center in the British Columbia Rocky Mountains, where they’ve practiced, taught, and trained in conscious community since 2013.

Catherine Pawasarat

Follow my Gion Festival social media channels below.  You can also email me here.

The Gion Festival: Exploring Its Mysteries

Get the book!

The most comprehensive English language book on the Gion Festival is launching this fall, 2020.

What you’ll find in the book:

  • Practical tips for the best experience of Kyoto’s famous 1150-year-old Gion Festival
  • Cultural context not available anywhere else in English
  • A spiritual perspective on the Gion Festival’s history and captivating artwork
  • Insider details on the Gion Festival community, an outstanding model of collaboration.
Gion Festival Book

Access Interactive Gion Festival Maps.

Download free interactive maps with locations and descriptions of all 34 Gion Festival floats.