The Takayama Festival, in autumn, is held annually on October 9th and 10th. The stars of the festival are the spectacularly adorned floats, called "yatai." They are paraded through the city with some featuring live Ohayashi festival music and another a puppet show using mechanical dolls. Kit Pancoast Nagamura visits people who are involved in preserving traditions related to the floats. Over in the nearby town of Hida-Furukawa, she joins a cycling tour to observe rural life, and tastes Japanese sake brewed by an American.
Tel: +81(0) 577-35-3145 (Tourism section of Takayama City Hall)
Address: 178 Sakuramachi, Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture
tel: +81(0) 577-32-5100
Address: 8-11 Ninomachi, Furukawa-cho, Hida City, Gifu Prefecture.
Address: 7-7 Ichinomachi, Furukawa-cho, Hida City, Gifu Prefecture
tel: +81(0) 577-73-3311
Traveler: Kit Pancoast Nagamura > More Info
Occupation:Poet, Photographer, Editor
Length of residence in Japan:More than 20 years
Reason: Festivals require that you mark out the exact dates and make careful travel plans in advance. It's worth it, though, to join in a collective celebration of life and the sacred. Since the Takayama Festival is one of Japan's most beautiful, I've long dreamed of seeing it.
For decades I've yearned to travel to the Hida region of Gifu, to attend Takayama's stunning autumn festival, considered one of the three most beautiful in Japan. Arriving a day early, and encountering an international crowd at the Miyagawa morning market, I realized that Takayama's fame has spread worldwide.
In mountain-fresh air, I walked alongside the sparkling Miyagawa River to the Takayama Yatai Kaikan, a spacious hall displaying several of the magnificent yatai, or festival floats. The hall offers tourists a chance to view these treasures year-round, and is indicative of the hospitality integral to Takayama's popularity.
I peeked in on "karakuri" puppeteer Katsuo Nabeshima of the Hotei-tai float as he passed along last-minute tips to his team, including his grandson, who from deep inside the float, pulls the 36 strings that make Hotei and his acrobat companions perform amazing tricks. I also observed Yasutake Taguchi of the Daihachi-tai float leading local children through a final practice of the centuries-old festival music played inside his float. In the complicated and serious instructions of these men, and the deep respect on the faces of their students, I glimpsed Takayama's cultural heritage secured.
However, the area seems to fold in newcomers as well. Kazuhisa Matsuo, who heads an eco-friendly business of cycling tours extremely popular with Japanese and foreign tourists, moved here after falling in love with the landscape. Cody Brailsford, from the US, followed his wife to her hometown, and became intoxicated with the process of making sake at Watanabe Sake Brewery. These two men pump new life into the area.
And the festival? It unrolls at a leisurely, luxurious pace through the long streets.There are lion dances, temple maidens, and men in elegant period costume, to say nothing of the dazzling floats. Then, at night, the town glows in the splendor of thousands of lanterns on the floats. It is sublime. Put it on your travel bucket list!