The Origins and Meaning of the Seiryū-e Festival
The Seiryū-e Festival, a relatively new event first held in 2000, has quickly become a popular attraction in Kyoto, Japan. The festival is dedicated to Seiryū, or the Blue Dragon, one of the four divine god-beasts believed to guard Kyoto’s borders against misfortune and disaster. As the protector of Kyoto’s eastern border, Seiryū is closely linked to Kiyomizu-dera, a famous temple at the base of the eastern Higashiyama mountain range.
According to legend, the Blue Dragon visits Kiyomizu-dera every night to drink from the sacred Otowa no Taki waterfall. Seiryū is considered an incarnation of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion.
Twice a year, every spring and autumn, Kiyomizu-dera comes alive with spectacular colors and music as it hosts the Seiryū-e Festival. The spring celebration occurs from March 14th to 15th and April 3rd, while the autumn festival occurs from September 14th to 15th. The Seiryū-e Dragon Festival is one of the best Kyoto events in September and March.
Celebrating with Dragons and Traditional Costumes
The highlight of the Seiryū-e Festival is an enchanting procession led by an 18-meter long Blue Dragon. Designed by Academy Award-winning costume designer Emi Wada (best known for her work on films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers), this sutra-covered dragon centerpiece was created with assistance from Kyoto’s traditional craftspeople.
In addition to the majestic dragon figure, a retinue of performers dressed in beautiful costumes parades through the grounds of Kiyomizu-dera temple and the surrounding neighborhood before returning to the temple. The procession features priests, musicians playing conch shells, warriors holding weapons, and men representing sixteen divinities chanting prayers.
The iconic Blue Dragon’s pole bearers and escorts don distinctive outfits inspired by Chinese and Japanese influences, as well as classic and modern styles. As they travel the parade route from 2 pm to 3:30 pm, the performers pray for regional peace and expel bad luck in a captivating spectacle.
Additional Attractions at Seiryū-e
Beyond the lively procession, the Seiryū-e Festival offers visitors the chance to witness a mesmerizing dragon dance and receive a special blessing from Kiyomizu-dera temple. These traditions have grown in popularity since the festival’s inception in 2000, with the dragon parade attracting more crowds yearly.
Exploring Kyoto Before or After the Festival
Travelers planning to attend the Seiryū-e Festival should also make time to explore Kyoto’s numerous other attractions. As a former imperial capital, Kyoto boasts a wealth of cultural treasures, including famous landmarks like the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) and Nijō Castle – renowned for its Samurai heritage. With no less than 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Kyoto offers an unmatched opportunity to immerse oneself in history and tradition.
If you’re in Kyoto during the whole month of September, take advantage of the vibrant and enchanting Seimei Festival at Seimei Jinja Shrine. This two-day celebration, on September 22nd and 23rd, is the most important festival held at the shrine.