Exploring the Mysteries of the Gion Festival

Catherine Pawasarat Sensei is preparing to launch her new book, The Gion Festival: Exploring Its Mysteries. We interviewed her about the festival’s ancient spiritual roots, her love for the community that surrounds it and why Dharma practitioners will find it a fascinating event.

Catherine Sensei spent many years in Kyoto. She also speaks about her appreciation for our sangha’s genesis in Japan, and how this heritage inspires the teachings in North America today.


catherine pawasarat gion

Watch the Interview Videos:

More about the Festival

What’s the festival really about? It’s an enormous Shinto purification ritual. “Shinto” means “Way of the Deities,” or nature spirits. It’s shamanism, Japanese style.

The Gion Festival: Exploring Its Mysteries

The Book

Catherine Pawasarat Sensei’s book is the most comprehensive English language publication on the Gion Festival. It is launching the autumn of 2020. 

Gion Festival Book

The Gion Festival: A month of rituals, five processions, countless deities, shrines and portable shrines, thirty-four floats, antique treasures and fine arts, otherworldly music, an array of spiritual traditions, family heirlooms on display, kimono, people-watching, thousands of dedicated volunteers, more than 1150 years of history—the Gion Festival is truly a world-class celebration.

Presented annually by thousands of volunteers, the Gion Festival is a fascinating self-organizing institution. With more than a millennium of rich history, it offers an excellent case study for sustainability and community resilience.

The purpose of this book is to raise awareness and appreciation of the unique value of this tradition, as a way of contributing to its long-term survival. A wealth of information is provided on its history, associated events, and how to access specific sites where individual floats and their treasures can be viewed up close in truly astounding detail. Descriptions of their sumptuous decorations, especially textiles (both Kyoto-crafted, and from as far afield as medieval Europe) may inspire even long-term residents to revisit with fresh eyes.

Praise for The Gion Festival: Exploring Its Mysteries

I grew up immersed in the traditional world of Kyoto culture. But Catherine's book showed me a whole new perspective of the Gion Matsuri that I had never known before.

Yuka Tsuen, President of Tsuen Tea International, 24th generation tea vendor

Catherine Pawasarat's book offers insights into both the beauty and significance of this complex festival, and in doing so, unlocks some of the mysteries at the cultural heart of this 1200-year-old city.

Diane Durston, Author and Arlene Schnitzer Curator of Culture, Art, and Education, Portland Japanese Garden

At long last, the spiritual, communal, and artistic facets of the magnificent Gion Matsuri are plainly explained in this comprehensive guidebook. The author’s personal knowledge and deep commitment to the sustainability of the festival places this guidebook in ground-breaking territory.

John Einarsen, Founding Editor, Kyoto Journal

With background stories on the historical and religious roots of the festival, and detailed information on each individual yamaboko float, as well as links to interactive maps, Pawasarat's guide to the Gion Festival is a must-have for anyone traveling to Kyoto for the summer festivities.

Marc Peter Keane, garden designer, author of Japanese Garden Notes 


The Gion Festival is the most important annual traditional event in Japan – and one of the richest cultural celebrations anywhere in the world. Yet until now there has never been a book devoted to it in English. Catherine Pawasarat’s book, a labor of love involving decades of experience and research, will remain for many years to come the definitive guide to the Gion Festival.

Alex Kerr, Author of Another Kyoto

This publication is the closest approximation to the as-yet non-existent museum catalog. Providing comprehensive descriptions never previously available in English, it is an invaluable aid to personal exploration. Its maps are detailed, as is the events schedule, and links are provided to a companion website, including YouTube videos.

Ken Rodgers, Managing Editor, Kyoto Journal

For the first time in English, the extraordinarily rich heritage of Kyoto’s premier festival is here given the coverage it deserves, accompanied by illustrations that add a visual gloss to the detailed descriptions.

John Dougill, Author of Kyoto, A Cultural History

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