If you find yourself in Kyoto on October 22, you must attend the Jidai Matsuri festival. That day is the anniversary of the foundation of Kyoto. It consists of a large parade that travels from the Imperial Palace to Heian Shrine. Jidai Matsuri means “Festival of Ages”, and the participants of the parade wear costumes of about every period of Japanese history, as well as famous historical figures. The parade takes about two hours to watch and there many participants.

The festival and the Heian shrine go back to 1895, when they were established to celebrate Kyoto’s history and culture. Kyoto was the capital for over a thousand years until 1868,when it was moved to Tokyo. The parade covers the approximately 1100 years during which Kyoto was the national capital..The parade begins with characters from the Meiji Restoration in 1868, and then continues in reverse chronological order until the beginning of the Heian Period in 781. Despite its short history, the Jidai Matsuri is one of Kyoto’s three most famous festivals, the other two being Gion Matsuri in July and Aoi Matsuri in May.

Figures like the governor of Kyoto Prefecture, the mayor of Kyoto City and the city council chairman, riding in horse drawn carriages in the style of the mid 1800s are at the very head of the parade. Following them are figures of the Meiji Restoration. There is a marching band with drums and flutes and soldiers who would have fought with the imperial forces, as well as some of the era’s most notable figures, such as Sakamoto Ryoma.The three most important officials ride on horseback, and there is also a palanquin carried by attendants that the officials would use when traveling. Afterwards there is a much smaller group of famous women from the period, including a princess sitting on a wheeled platform. The largest group in the parade depicts the extravagant convoys sent by the shogun to represent him at important imperial ceremonies in Kyoto during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

The most important is the last group of the parade. There are many attendants that accompany and carry two mikoshi (portable shrines) that contain the spirits of the first Emperor Kammu and the last Emperor Komei. Heian Shrine is dedicated to the two emperors, and their spirits normally reside in the shrine.

The parade’s length is about five kilometers. Most people gather at the Imperial Palace and on the approach to Heian Shrine, where spectators may want to get a spot early. In addition to the regular viewing areas lining the parade route, there are also sections of reserved seats at the shrine, the palace and on the streets. There is some paid seating at the Kyoto Imperial Palace, in front of Kyoto City Hall and along the approach to Heian Shrine. You can buy seats at convenience stores or JTB travel agencies; each seat costs 2050 yen, includes a pamphlet about the festival.