Nine months ago we planned to visit Takayama for the Spring Festival. Thought to be around 400 years old, the Takayama Festival is counted as one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan. It is held every spring and autumn, and it shows-off what is great about the Hida region. The festival has continued to be protected and cherished by the local people, who demonstrate their traditional folk arts during the event.
The Takayama Spring Festival, or Sanno Festival, is the annual festival of the Hie Jinja Shrine (more affectionately known as Sanno-sama), the guardian deity of the southern half of the old Takayama castle town. It is held on April 14th and 15th each year.
The festival is thought to have its origins in the later half of the 16th century or early 17 century. Even though the origin of the festival is unknown, it is believed that the festival started between 1586 and 1692 when the Kanamori family governed the Hida Takayama area. In a letter dated August 29, 1692, to Kagahan, presently Ishikawa Prefecture, it was stated that the Takayama Festival had been held for the last 40 years.
In April, when the snow on the mountains which surround the basin of Takayama melts away and solid ground reappears, spring finally comes to Hida Takayama. As people joyously celebrate the new season, the sound of drums from festivals in nearby village shrines echoes in the clear spring air. The sound heralds the coming of spring to Takayama, a small, snow-bound city nestled between mountains; not only do the people bask in the joy of spring, but through the festival they also beseech the gods for good harvest and peace for the year.
Perhaps more than anything else, the focal point and must-see attraction of the Takayama Festival is the yatai (festival floats), which are products of the fabulous craftsmanship of the Hida masters. With elaborate, artistic ornaments, masterfully designed marionettes who exhibit incredibly dexterous movements, and clever contraptions for maneuvering them around town, the floats are really masterpieces in their own right. At night-time, the floats are covered with lanterns, and the parade of these floats creates a beautiful fantasy world completely different from the daytime procession.
The spring festival is a major drawcard that attracts people to Takayama in droves from throughout Japan and around the world.
This year tourists filled the town again and found themselves with time on their hands and not much to do! The spring festival was cancelled due to rainy weather 😦 So instead of the yatai parading in front of people, the people paraded in front of the yatai.
Five of the floats are at the Exhibition Hall where they can be seen all year round.
Next to the hall is the Sakurayama Nikkokan, a hall displaying a dazzling one-tenth-scale replica of 28 buildings from Nikko’s Toshogu shrine. The entrance to this hall is included in the ticket to see the yatai.
All floats are beautifully decorated with carvings, dolls, elaborately woven thick curtains, lacquerware, and bamboo blinds. These exquisite decorations are found not only on the outside where they are seen by the crowds, but also on the inside, such as under the roof and behind the doors, where elaborate carvings can be found.
The floats’ intertwining colors of green, vermillion, pink and gold are a sight to behold: like seeing an enlarged picture scroll of the Dynastic Era.
In olden days, the artisans and tradesmen of Takayama, who had accumulated great wealth, were prohibited from using their wealth for the purpose of upgrading their social standings. Therefore, they used their wealth in beautifying their daily lives. The festival was one outlet for their wealth. Year by year, the festival became more and more extravagant.
In the constructions of a float, several households came together to form a community. Each member donated his share toward the construction of the float, according to his means. Thus, the float was jointly owned by all the members of the community. Then, each community started to compete with each other to have the most beautiful float, which helped make the floats so special.
There are many small rivers flowing through the town of Takayama. Traversing these rivers are numerous small vermillion-colored bridges, and along the river banks are cherry blossom trees. Spring was late in coming to Takayama this year and so were the cherry blossoms which were just starting to come out.
We went to the top of some hill, and the view would have been great in different weather.
So the bears focused on some indoor activities 🙂
Delicious scones at Soeur, 2-35 Honmachi Takayama-chi.
Lunch at another restaurant on Honmachi, corner with Kokubunji I think.
And exquisite dinner at Pension Yasuda.