Shinto religion is very ancient. It literally means "the way of the gods". Shinto is a general term for the actions of the people to worship all the deities of heaven and earth. Shinto shrines are worshipped and considered the homes of deities. Most shrines celebrate festivals in order to show the Shinto Gods the outside world.
Gion Matsuri originated in 869 under extremely oppressive circumstances. Kyoto was hit with a plague and many people died as a result. People believe this was the vengeance of the gods. A priest of the Shinto religion's Gion shrine led a procession to pacify the Shinto Gods. Portable statues of deities were paraded through the streets in an attempt to purify the city. The plague was soon over and Gion Matsuri became an important event in Shinto religion.
Gion Matsuri is one of the largest festivals in Japan. It is also one of the most famous ones. Gion Matsuri takes place in Kyoto, and lasts a whole month. The celebration starts on the 1st of July and culminates on July 17th with a huge parade. During this parade, floats are marched down the streets of downtown Kyoto. The streets are littered with people and full of games, fairs, and Japanese traditional food. The floats are made on the streets and some are so big and elaborate that tours are given. These floats are adorned with flowers, ornaments and even Persian, Dutch and Turkish tapestries.
The processions are the most important part of Shinto religion festivals. The portable shrines of gods are shown being marched through the streets by people in special costumes. They are accompanied by floats, some of which weight over 10 tonnes. The floats carry musicians playing traditional Japanese instruments such as the Shakuhachi (a flute) or a biwa (a guitar). It is as though the city has gone back in time. During Gion Matsuri, the entire city of Kyoto, the entire city of Kyoto captured by this festive mood and numerous ceremonies and rites are observed.
For foreigners living in Japan this may seem like a very strange and unorthodox holiday, they may attend the festival, but may not stay for the entire duration. The floats will always keep many of the foreigners interested in the festival, and the games and fairs will defiantly keep them entertained. However seeing as though the festival does go on for nearly a month many of the visitors to Japan may feel that everything is becoming rather repetitive in nature, therefore they may go and explore the rest of Japan, they may come back on the last day to see if there is going to be something special, but other then that they may be disappointed at the festival.
The foreigners may be disappointed with the festival but the Japanese will come out every year, and they will attend every day of the festival, making sure that they don't miss anything. We celebrate the days that may seem odd to the Japanese, so it is just different cultures expressing their beliefs and traditions. If you are interested in seeing the festival then you are more then welcome to book yourself a nice hotel close to the action.