People in ancient court attire parade through the grounds of Kyoto’s Shimogamojinja shrine during the Aoi Festival on May 15. (The Asahi Shimbun)

KYOTO--A parade of people in colorful court attire put the crowd here on May 15 in the spirit to celebrate the first Aoi Festival of the Reiwa Era.

Rika Ono is a descendant of samurai warriors, but playing the role of Saio-dai, the ancient event's heroine, still brought on the butterflies.

“As the very first person to play Saio-dai in Reiwa, I tried to look dignified and wonderful in the eyes of the spectators,” said the 23-year-old, who appeared as the ancient court lady clothed in a “juni-hitoe” layered kimono, carried on a float called an “oyoyo.”

"I carried out my duty, hoping the new era will become peaceful," Ono said.

The resident of Kyoto’s Sakyo Ward, chosen as the festival's 64th Saio-dai, and about 500 other people, strolled along the 8-kilometer route from the former imperial palace in Kamigyo Ward to Shimogamojinja shrine in Sakyo Ward, and then to Kamigamojinja shrine in Kita Ward.

About 47,000 people flocked to the area to enjoy the early summer tradition, according to the Kyoto prefectural police.

Ono, a company employee, played lacrosse as a student at Doshisha Senior High School. As the captain, she led her team to victory in the national lacrosse championship. Ono was named MVP.

Ono said she trained for the Saio-dai role, which required her to sit on her legs throughout the parade, by doing plenty of knee stretches.

“I was more nervous playing Saio-dai than playing a lacrosse game,” she said.

Ono's samurai ancestors served at the Ishiyama Hongwanji temple, which formerly stood near where Osaka Castle is sited today.

Her family runs a store called Kungyokudo, which has been in business since 1594 selling incense sticks and fragrant wood near the entrance of Kyoto’s Nishi-Hongwanji temple.

The Aoi Festival is known as one of Kyoto's three biggest festivals, along with the Gion and Jidai festivals.