Takayama Matsuri is actually a twice-yearly festival:
- Sanno Matsuri is held in the spring around Hie-jinja Shrine.
- Hachiman Matsuri is held in the fall around Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine.
It is one of the three biggest festivals in Japan, along with Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri and Northwest Tokyo’s Chichibu Yomatsuri at the beginning of December. While its origins remain uncertain, the parades might date from the 16th century or a little later, in between the Azuchi-Momoyama (1568 - 1600) and Edo (1603 - 1868) periods.
The festival’s processions include more than a thousand people wearing colorful traditional clothing from the 15th century. To watch them, thousands of spectators gather along the Miyagawa River in the city’s ancient districts. Obviously, all accommodations are booked in advance long before the date, especially if the festival falls on a weekend.
The main part of the festival consists of a procession of decorated floats called yatai. These are classified as "UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage" since 2016. Twelve floats can be seen in April, and eleven different floats can be seen in October. The floats are made of several stairs, and their upper levels are mainly occupied by children singing or playing musical instruments. The beating heart of the parade is the mikoshi, a portable shrine that tours the old city from its original shrine.
Although the festival lasts two days, its apotheosis occurs on the first evening, when the floats are decorated with hundreds of paper lanterns that gracefully illuminate them. If it is raining, the festival might simply be canceled. In such cases, the Yatai are exhibited in a warehouse that is open to visitors. This is also the case all year long during "Matsuri no Mori". Four floats rotate in March, July and November.
However, the official exhibition hall is the Takayama Yatai Kaikan, which is slightly northeast of the city center. Here, the festival’s history completes these majestic exhibitions. A young lady from Sakurayama Hachimangu comes to describe the parade for tourists on demand.
How to get to Takayama Matsuri
Matsuri, a ~10-minute walk east of JR station:
- In Spring: around the Hie-jinja Shrine
- In Autumn: around the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine
Hida Takayama Matsuri no Mori (Festival Museum): Chishima-cho 1111, Takayama -- 17 minutes by bus from the train station
Location reachable with the JRP : order your Japan Rail Pass (from ~US$ 281)
Matsuri: free access
Festival Museum: ¥1,000 (~US$ 9.10)
Get your Japanese Yens free of charge
Matsuri (from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. approximately / night festival the first evening from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.):
- In Spring: April 14-15
- In Autumn: October 9-10
Festival Museum: open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- From 9 to 10 October -- Hachiman Matsuri (the Autumn Takayama Festival)
- From 14 to 15 April -- Sanno Matsuri (the Spring Takayama Festival)
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