The Hida-Takayama Matsuri – Takayama Autumn Festival
The Takayama Autumn Festival is a spectacular float festival that has been held for over 350 years, in both the spring and autumn. It features eleven tall floats that weigh several tons and contain old mechanical dolls that give performances on the days of the festival. This festival is not well known outside of Japan, but within Japan it is regarded as one of its three most beautiful festivals.
The Takayama Autumn Festival’s magnificent floats are almost unrivaled in their splendor. 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.
Also adding to the beauty and excitement is the fact the floats are paraded in the evening, lending an odd tension and electricity as the lights play on the decorated floats and the faces of the local festival goers lining the streets.
The highlight of the Takayama Autumn Festival occurs on the first night when the tall floats are lit up with “chochin” traditional paper lanterns and paraded through town for several hours starting in the area in front of Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine. This is the most lively night of the event with the townspeople and visitors alike in a festive mood.
The following day features several events. The floats are put on display in the streets and the mechanical puppets perform for the crowds. These puppets are essentially 19th century Japanese robots. The floats are antiques and are not permitted to get wet. They are stored in small storehouses around town. In the event of rain, performances are shifted to these storehouses and the lantern parade is cancelled.
Early October can bring rain, but usually the Takayama Autumn Festival is able to go ahead as planned. And even if it is cancelled the festive atmosphere, its great local “hida-gyu” (local Japanese beef from the area) and fantastic old-town make Takayama a visit worthy of any itinerary.