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Mifune Festival 三船祭

Mifune Matsuri
Mifune Matsuri

See how Japan's nobility partied a thousand years ago at the Mifune Matsuri

The Mifune Matsuri, taking place in May in Kyoto's Arashiyama district, is a unique and fascinating annual re-creation of imperial boating parties held by the Emperor and his court during the Heian period.

Don't Miss

  • The dances, music, and poetry recitations performed on boats made in the ancient style
  • The costumes, such as women dressed in ju-ni-hitoe, 12-layer kimono

How to Get There

Kurumazaki Shrine is a few minutes from Arashiyama Station on foot.

Take a train from Kyoto Station to Arashiyama Station on the Sainhonsen Line, which takes around 15 minutes. Walk south toward the riverside to reach Kurumazaki Shrine.

A May celebration like no other

The Mifune Festival re-creates these 1,000-year old parties on the third Sunday of May, drawing up to 100,000 tourists who come to view the graceful spectacle of a fleet of twenty boats.

Traditional dances, music, and poetry recitations are performed on the prows of these old-fashioned boats, each designed with the heads of a bird or a dragon.

While the Japanese characters for Mifune literally mean “three boats,” it is also an allusion to the “three arts” practiced during the festival: Japanese poetry (waka), Chinese poetry (kanshi), and musical performance and dance (sogaku).

Enjoy the artistic festival on water

The current festival originated in 1928 and is organized by the Kurumazaki Shrine, which stands close to the river.

The shrine is dedicated to the patron deity of the performing arts and is visited by many famous stars who come here to offer prayers so that they can give better stage performances or rise in popularity. The shrine also draws many members of Kyoto's geiko (geisha) community.

The boat party cast

After a ritual held at the shrine at noon, people dressed in Heian period costumes proceed along Arashiyama's Togetsukyo Bridge and board the boats.

At the head of this procession are high priests from the shrine. Sensu fans of assorted colors are floated on the river by women known as ju-ni-hitoe, who are dressed in 12-layer kimono.

Also in attendance are dancers and musicians from around the area. Unlike a typical Japanese matsuri, this festival doesn't have much of a celebratory atmosphere, but it's a great way to immerse yourself in the rich history of Japan.

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