The best time to do Kyoto is, of course, in spring and autumn--more crowded in spring than in autumn, though many find the foliage of autumn more alluring than the blossom of spring. The landscape clad in snow is no less irresistible than the cooling excursions on Arashiyama or on the Uji. But there are extra attractions in the form of festivals, over which the whole of Kyoto seems to go crazy and which people will gather from all parts of Japan to view. Happy are the tourists who happen to be in Kyoto in time to see one or all of its three celebrated festivals.
Jidai Matsuri ("various epochs celebration"), held on October 22nd, belongs to the Heian Jingū, already mentioned, of which all the Kyoto citizens are parishioners. Its chief attraction is the remarkable pageant showing the styles of costume accoutrement of various periods from Heian to Tokugawa. It illustrates in a realistic way how Shōguns or political rulers representing different periods made their triumphal entry into Kyoto to pay their homage to the Imperial Court.
Aoi Matsuri (May 15) is the festival observed by the two ancient upper and lower Kamo shrines. It was to these that the Emperors went in olden times to worship and pray, especially when the land was threatened with calamity, and the festival symbolizes this, showing how the Emperor in old days went out in an ox-drawn sacred palanquin.
The third famous festival is that of the Gion Shrine, celebrated in July with the famous shrine of Gion as the center of festivities. Its chief feature is the parading of a number of shrine-cars or floats boarded by chigo -- sacred pages specially appointed by the shrine. Because of the propitious situation of the shrine -- Gion being a center of the pleasure district--it draws out large numbers of worshippers during the ten days or more while the festival lasts. The Gion shrine is always thronged, corresponding perhaps to the Kwannon of Asakusa, Tokyo.
But by far the most popular Shinto deity in or about Kyoto is the celebrated Inari of Fushimi, which commands the devotion of well-nigh the whole nation. If you are of a devotional turn of mind, in the sense in which the worship of Shinto deities is understood, you cannot fail, while in Kyoto, to take half an hour's motor ride to visit this most famous Inari shrine in Japan.
Dedicated to several deities of the mythological age, the Inari is looked upon as one who can give good crops to farmers and good business to merchants. Hence the incessant coming and going in the shrine compound, as if it were in a perpetual state of festivity. The innumerable red torii on the hill behind the main shrine, contributed by its devotees, are so many proofs of the great benevolence of the deity.