It’s just ticked over to July. That means two things: the heat has suddenly gone way up, and the Gion Matsuri—or Gion Festival—has kicked off.

A float covered in lanterns
Photo by foooomio used under CC

Gion Matsuri is perhaps the biggest event in Kyoto’s calendar, and one of the most important festivals in Japan. It’s also one of the cheapest events in Kyoto, nay, maybe even the country!

gion matsuri
Photo by Yoichiro Uno used under CC

Don’t believe me? Let’s count the ways it will cost you little to nothing.

Viewing the Gion Matsuri parades

The Yamahoko Junko parades (the main processions on July 17th and 24th) are free, and span many kilometers, with no end of viewing spots to choose from. But if you do want to spend some money, you can secure a reserved seat to make sure you get a super-clear view. You can buy tickets to see the Gion Festival parades online.

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A Gion Matsuri float filled with musicians
Climb up onto the floats and hang out with the musicians for a few hundred yen! | Photo by Takeshi Kuboki used under CC

The Yoiyama nights (the three days leading up to the main parades) are also free to wander around. See the completed floats, listen to the musicians and admire the family heirlooms on display. If you want to spend some cash, many floats allow revelers to climb up into the musicians’ section for a few hundred yen. There’s no better way to get up close to the stars of the parade.

Photos and stamp rallies

Taking photos is a low-cost way of preserving your memories of the Gion Festival, but if you want something a little more unique, you can always splash out on a goshuincho stamp book (between ¥900 and ¥1,500) and collect the commemorative stamps of each float as you visit them. A small donation is welcomed at every stamp station.

Young women wearing yukata
Photo by MShades used under CC

Garments and grub

There’s no dress code, but if you want to blend in with the locals, you can spend a little cash on yukata rental and maybe throw in a decorative hand fan. Then head over to the yatai food stalls and enjoy festival staples like yakisoba and takoyaki. Alternatively, bring some rice balls and you’re sorted.

But wait, even after all that, there are still more free events than paid during Gion Matsuri? Geez, it’s tough to spend money at this cheapo-friendly celebration!

This post was first published in July, 2016. Last updated July, 2018.

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