Photo/Illutration Saio-dai, the heroine of the Aoi Festival, is carried on a float as the parade starts from the former imperial palace in Kyoto’s Kamigyo Ward on May 16. (Yoshiaki Arai)

KYOTO--About 500 people in colorful period costumes took to the streets here on May 16 as part of an iconic parade that returned to the city’s centuries-old Aoi Festival for the first time in four years.

Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko also saw off the parade at the former imperial palace.

This was the first time for the royal couple to visit the festival, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

Spectators seemed particularly enthralled by Haruna Matsui, who played the role of Saio-dai, the heroine of the festival.

Matsui, who is originally from Kyoto and now lives in Tokyo, was dressed in a “juni-hitoe” layered kimono as she was carried on a float called “oyoyo.”

The parade, originally scheduled for May 15, was delayed one day due to bad weather.

The festival had been held on a smaller scale during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual celebration dating to the sixth century is organized by the priests of Shimogamojinja shrine and Kamigamojinja shrine, which are both on the UNESCO World Heritage list.