Kyoto's Jidai Matsuri & A Return Home

Considered by many to be the cultural center of Japan, Kyoto draws visitors from around the country - and the world - all year long. Particularly busy, however, are the Fall and Spring when the red maple leaves and pink cherry blossoms frame the historic buildings, enhancing their natural beauty. Kicking off the Fall tourist season is one of Kyoto's three main festivals, Jidai Matsuri.

The festival consists mainly of a procession of about 2000 people wearing costumes that depict historical people and moments in Kyoto starting from the Meiji Period (1868-1912) going back all the way to the city's foundation in the eighth century. Jidai Matsuri began in 1895 following the move of the imperial capital from Kyoto to Tokyo as a way to celebrate the city's long and illustrious history. It is held on October 22nd every year, which is the anniversary of both Kyoto's foundation and the beginning of the Heian period in 794.

The procession begins at the Imperial Palace (where onlookers can take pictures with the participants milling around before the parade begins) and follows a three-mile path to Heian Jingu. From the starting point to the end point is about 2.5 hours, but as an onlooker, when standing in one spot watching the procession go by, the line of people (and the occasional horse or ox) is so long that it takes nearly 1.5 hours for all of them to pass.

Despite the sheer size of the festival, the most impressive thing by far is the attention to detail in all of the costumes. Other than the people caring for the horses wearing long pants and covered shoes, nearly everyone in the procession, from the tops of their heads to the tips of their toes, were dressed in time-appropriate outfits and accessories. Even if just a little, watching the people go by makes you feel as if you've been transported back in time.


Although I previously lived in Kyoto for a year of study abroad during college, I wasn't able to watch the procession last time due to it falling on a school day. So you can bet I was pretty ecstatic that it fell on a Saturday this year and that I was able to go. It was also the first time that I'd be able to visit the city since leaving my study abroad, so I was doubly excited to be going back.

We parked outside the city, and as we took the train in and the sights and sounds started to become familiar, I actually almost started to tear up. I don't think that I even realized how much I came to consider Kyoto "home" and how much I'd missed it.

From the moment I stepped off the train, I was darting around like a rocket, taking in the familiarity of it all, dragging the friend that I had come with everywhere around the city center. Although some buildings and stores were different, it was still exactly as I left it. The people, the energy, the atmosphere - it all felt right. It all felt like home.

That sort of reaction wasn't unfamiliar to me - I felt the same way going back to Hawaii for Christmas after my first term at college and again when returning to Chicago for my final year of undergrad after my time abroad. what did surprise me though, was that Kyoto could make me feel like that after only living there for eight months.

But maybe it's less about the amount of time you spend in a place and more about the quality of time spent. My time in Kyoto was one of the most enjoyable periods of my life so far. I made so many great friends and really had the opportunity to get to know the city in a way that I can't even say that I know Honolulu.

It's nice to know that I've got multiple places that my heart can call home. And I hope that the future will lead me to more of these places, small pockets of earth where I can lay a few roots and know that every time I return, a little piece of me will still be blooming there.