In 2006 I spent the month of July travelling around Japan which included a stay in Kyoto at the time of Yoiyama. During the day the district of Gion was alive with tourists and visitors filing along the pavements of Shijo-dori to the sound of the jangling bells that usually accompany the Yamaboko floats being piped through speakers outside the street's traditional shops and department stores. The matsuri is a busy time for the area's geisha too. During the evening it was easy to spot geiko and maiko in elaborate kimono as they flitted from teahouse to teahouse or bid their guests goodnight in the narrow backstreets of Gion and neighbouring Pontochō. I even managed to spot a young maiko during the day as she shopped, unmistakeable even off-duty in her expensive kimono and lacquered hairstyle, at the Takashimaya department store.
On the evenings of 14th, 15th and 16th (known as Yoiyama, Yoiyoiyama and Yoiyoiyoiyama respectively) many streets in the Shijo Muromachi area are closed to traffic and fill with festival-goers who come to view the Yamaboko floats festooned with lanterns and enjoy the foods like yakisoba and takoyaki from the many temporary stalls. Most people dress in yukata during the festival evenings especially young girls who crowd the photobooths of nearby games centres to pose with their friends. It is also possible to see ancient antiques and family treasures as some homes display their heirlooms for passersbys to view as part of the Byobu Matsuri which coincides with Yoiyama. The Yoiyama evenings are so popular that many of the streets were packed tight with people making it difficult to move freely but this is all part of the matsuri experience. Festivals such as this are an excellent chance to experience Japanese traditional culture first hand and witness how it is still celebrated and treasured in the present day.
This video really captures the noise, sights and atmosphere of Yoiyama at Gion Matsuri:
This article has been submitted to Japan Blog Matsuri August 2011 for the theme 'Summer Lovin'.