Controversy Hits Kyoto’s Famed Gion Festival over High-Priced Spectator Seats; Shrine’s Chief Priest Says Festival is ‘Ritual,’ not ‘Show’

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A procession of floats is seen during last year’s Gion Festival in Kyoto, on July 17, 2023.

KYOTO — A conflict over the selling of “premium seats” for Kyoto’s famed Gion Festival has led the chief priest of the shrine that puts on the festival to consider resigning from his seat on the board of directors of the Kyoto City Tourism Association, it has been learned.

Akiyoshi Nomura, the 65-year-old chief priest of the Yasaka Shrine in Higashiyama Ward, has expressed his intention to step down in protest of the association’s offering of high-priced tickets in a prime viewing spot to watch the Gion Festival’s procession of extravagant floats, called “Yamahoko-Junko.”

The premium seats were introduced by the association last year and include alcoholic beverages and servings of shaved ice. According to the shrine, Nomura said that the procession is “a Shinto ritual, not a show to be watched while enjoying alcoholic beverages.”

On Tuesday, the association started selling tickets for 60 premium seats for the July 17 procession priced at ¥150,000 and ¥200,000.

According to the shrine, Nomura began regarding the issue as a problem from last year, when ¥400,000 seats were introduced targeting deep-pocketed tourists from overseas, although the price was reduced after a review this summer.

“We need to confirm his true motives,” a member of the association said. “There is still room to reconsider the contents of the service.”