The world’s most boring festival?


Maru-ni-mitsuba’aoi (“Circle Around Three Hollyhock Leaves”)

May 15th is the festival of Aoi Matsuri (officially known as the Kamo Festival), once referred to as “the world’s most boring festival“. As you may remember from an earlier MusiCB3 post, the staff of the Anderson Room also provide support in the East Asian Reading Room (the Aoi), so of course we had to bring this festival to your attention.

Aoi Matsuri is one of three major festivals that take place in Kyoto. The name of the festival comes from the hollyhock leaves used as decoration throughout the celebration. These leaves were once believed to protect against natural disasters. (Aoi means both hollyhock and blue (or a greeny blue) in Japanese – hence the decor in the reading room).

Aoi Matsuri Festival, courtesy of Japanexperterna

Aoi Matsuri Festival, courtesy of Japanexperterna

This festival is thought to be the oldest in Kyoto, although its form has changed over time and there have been periods when it has disappeared altogether from the calendar. The current festival was established only 55 years ago. You can read more about the story of the three leaved hollyhock here.

According to ancient records Aoi Matsuri first began during the reign of the Emperor Kinmei who reigned CE539-571. A series of disastrous natural events ruined crops and sickness swept through the country. It was believed that this was a punishment sent from the deities of Kamo. In desperation the Emperor sent a messenger on a galloping horse to a shrine to plead for forgiveness. The galloping horse became an annual ritual and turned into an archery event, although within a few years this event was dropped.

In the nineteenth century Emperor Kōmei recognised the deities of the Kamo shrine and the Aoi Matsuri as an annual event. This is when Aoi Matsuri thrived. However it waned following his death and was eventually discontinued. After World War II the procession was re-established, and has remained popular ever since.

Gamelan at the Faculty of Music.

Gamelan at the Faculty of Music.

You may not be able to enjoy  the festival of Aoi Matsuri, but did you know that the UL and the Pendlebury have a large collection of ethnomusicology related literature, music, even instruments? The music faculty houses a set of gamelan from the island of Java, and there is a Cambridge gamelan society.

At the UL we have the Picken collection.There is a small amount of music within the collection including the Kikutei scrolls. The bulk of the collection however comprises literature about music from around the world with an emphasis on the music of South-East Asia; but there are also a substantial number of books about the music of Turkey, the Balkans and Eastern Europe, Western Europe and the Americas, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and the Near East. In fact the only area that doesn’t appear to be well covered is Australasia (perhaps indicative of the period during which Picken was amassing his collection?).

Some of the Kikutei manuscripts in the Picken collection at the UL.Copyright Sarah Chapman.

Some of the Kikutei manuscripts in the Picken collection at the UL.
Copyright Sarah Chapman.

Laurence Picken’s collection of musical instruments from around the world can be found at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (to find his instruments search the museum’s catalogue keyword “Picken” and click “Object”). For more information on books in the Picken collection see the handlist held at the Pendlebury (Ra.423.807.P1). You can also browse the handlist online via the Newton catalogue, by searching “Picken.” as a classmark.

The UL also has a near complete run of the Rough Guide to World Music CDs (CD.078.). These are great if you want a taster of a particular country or area, please ask at the Enquiry Desk in the Anderson Room quoting the partial classmark, if you’d like to look at the class catalogue to see which are held at the UL.

A selection of DVDs and CDs at the Pendlebury.Copyright Sarah Chapman.

A selection of DVDs and CDs at the Pendlebury.
Copyright Sarah Chapman.

World music books at the Pendlebury.

World music books at the Pendlebury.
Copyright Sarah Chapman










The Pendlebury has excellent ethnomusicology resources. There are a variety of books reflecting the topics that have been taught, so they’re wide ranging –  from the  music of the African townships to samba. Many have been ordered from publishers in the United States, so you’ll often find ethnomusicology resources in the Pendlebury that you won’t find in the UL, and vice versa.  There’s also a large selection of CDs, and a small number of DVDs.

So why not come along and investigate the music of the world through the collections of the UL and the Pendlebury? Happy Aoi Matsuri.

SDC and MJ





About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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