Summer 2005, I went to Gion Festival 祇園祭り in Kyoto.
Gion is one of the largest festivals held in Kansai. It is one of the three largest and most important festivals in Japan. Normally held in July, it is a treasured annual event that completely consumes all activity in downtown Kyoto.
Some Japanese phrases to describe Gion Matsuri could be…
人だらけ。 “hito darake” “nothing but freakin people everywhere” 満員電車状態。 “manindensha jyoutai” “freakin’ like a rush-hour train” めっちゃ暑いねん。”meccya atsuinen” “It’s freakin’ hot”
I joke, it’s an amazing experience and if possible, I would recommend everyone at try to attend once if you can manage.
Giant two-story, two-ton floats carrying dozens of people in festival wear are wheeled around the streets — manually dragged by what must be 40 men. At one of the most exciting moments of the festival they heave the float to turn their fixed-axel heavy wooden wheels across the pavement. It is truly a sight to see!
They even float by McDonalds… For an… Ice Cream Float. [joke.]
On Thursday, March 12, I went to Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto just before lunch to see if I could enjoy a day there without crowds. Fushimi Inari has become one of the most crowded tourist destinations in Kyoto so the thought of a visit off peak season was appealing. I expected crowds to be low because it was a weekday, and also, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fushimi Inari was certainly less crowded than usual, but there were definitely lots of tourists there. I wouldn’t recommend planning a trip anywhere with large crowds while the danger of Corona Virus is an issue, but if you’re already on your way to Japan and committed to going anyway this is what to expect.
I did see a couple of tour groups, including one with a tour guide with a lead flag and everything. The ten plus seemingly western tourists were all wearing the same style mask, which makes me think that the tour company provided them. Otherwise I noticed the usual groups of tourists, with the notable absence of Mandarin-speaking groups.
We arrived at Fushimi Inari station at about 11am, had lunch at a nice western cafe called Vermillion, and then started our way up Mt. Inari. I was with an elementary school kid and we made it to the top at at about 1:15 pm. After a bit of wandering and shopping we were ready to leave and at the train station at about 2:30 pm. So, If you’ve got 3-4 hours you can easily make it to the top of the mountain and back.
If you’re thinking about traveling to Japan sometime soon and are wondering how the Corona Virus (COVID-19) or other local circumstances might affect your trip, I recommend checking out the following websites for information:
I decided to visit Imakumano Kannonji after looking for a place in Kyoto that wouldn’t be crowded with tourists. Imakumano delivered. There was hardly anyone around when we visited in February 2020, perhaps the Corona Virus had something to do with it, but it is so out of the way I expect that it never sees large crowds. The site is large and it’s a good walk to see everything if you don’t use a taxi. A great site to visit on a good-weather day when you want to avoid the crowds but still see something special.
The complex is large and there are several sites to visit. One of them is Kaikoji Temple.
The largest standing wooden Buddha statue is located in Kaiko-ji Temple, which is on the way to Imakumano, and is worth the visit. At 5.4 meters tall, it was quite impressive. Photos of the inside are not allowed so you’ll have to take my word for it. They also have an audio presentation that will explain the site in English.
This is probably not the most efficient trip plan, but we visited Imakumanoji Kannonji after a visit to Sanjusangendo. It was about a 20 minute walk from one site to the the other and we stopped for lunch in between. I was with an elementary school kid who can only enjoy about two cultural sites a day, so this was our original plan.
I’m sure this area is even more beautiful in the fall when the leaves have changed.
If you’re looking for a Kyoto site to visit that is somewhat off the beaten path, consider a visit!