The Gion Festival’s history began in the year 869 C.E.. The Emperor called for a goryō-e ritual to appease angry spirits. He believed the spirits were causing a deadly plague in Kyoto‘s sweltering midsummer.
These roots remain today: in many ways the Gion Festival is an enormous, month-long purification ritual. These include countless rituals and prayers for a year full of protection from harm. In other words, the Gion Festival invites goodness to Kyoto City, its residents and visitors.
Although Japan is often stereotyped as a homogenous country, it’s spiritually very open-minded. That is, Japanese people and culture accept “whatever works” into their spiritual cosmography. Consequently, the Gion Festival features an abundance of spiritual traditions. Look closely and you’ll see signs of Shintō, Zen, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam and Greek mythology.