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Japan's Gion Matsuri Festival puts the spotlight on Kyoto

The world-leading Gion Matsuri Festival will put the spotlight on its host city Kyoto this July for the annual staging of the famed Japanese festival, which will welcome over 30 carnival-style traditional events as they take centre stage across the city.

The Gion Matsuri Festival is often regarded as one of Japan’s leading festivals, and is named after Kyoto's Gion district, Japan's most exclusive Geisha entertainment district. The festival has advanced significantly since its beginnings where it was originally a religious ritual to calm the plague that spread all over the country in 869AD. Today it attracts thousands of visitors to the city, which erupts in a vibrant display of culture and where Japan’s festivities and culture are showcased through a series of parades. Despite being named after Kyoto's Gion district, the hub of activity centres around the Yasaka-jinja shrine.

“Yamahoko Junko” is the highlight of the festival and this year is set to wow crowds on 17 July 2015, when visitors can see giant decorated wagons called ‘Hoko’ and ‘Yama,’ as they are pulled by men through the city. Children and adults ride on the Yamahoko floats, embracing the festival music with whistles and bells to heighten the carnival mood. During the evening, festivities turn to Shinkosai, a ritual held at Yasaka-jinja shrine where portable shrines are paraded by over a thousand men dressed in their traditional Japanese happi coats.

In the run up to Yamahoko Junko, the streets of Gion are shut off to cars for the three days ahead of its start to allow the floats to be built in the streets. Street vendors line the roads selling traditional Japanese snacks for those arriving to watch the masterpieces take shape. Visitors to the city over this iconic festival period should make sure they are ready to don a traditional yukata - a casual kimono - to really feel like they are part of the festivities.

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