see also: Day 2!
Takayama, a small city up in the Japanese Alps (as the name would suggest; yama in Japanese means ‘mountain’), probably isn’t on the majority of visitors’ itineraries — indeed, i’d never heard of it until a couple months ago — but twice a year, April 14th and 15th for the Spring Festival, and October 9th and 10th for the Autumn Festival, the town swells with people who come to see a celebration that has been going on for four centuries.
indeed we were going to just go from Hakone to Osaka directly but when doing initial research for this trip, i discovered the Autumn Festival was taking place while we were in the country, so why not? you have to take a slow, but scenic, train from Nagoya (the Hida train, covered by JR Passes) that winds its way through the mountains, alongside rivers (riparian entertainments, anyone?), but for one of the three best festivals (so they say) in the country, i say it’s a nice diversion? be sure to book your hotel early. prices will be exorbitant.
what started as a thanksgiving ceremony in the late 16th or early 17th century by one of the Shinto shrines in town is now a festival that takes place over two days, with ornate historic floats (yatai) that get paraded through town and marionette performances. our train arrived a little after 5 PM on the first day and i was worried we missed out on a lot already, but as it turns out, the evening ceremonies don’t start until 6 PM.
All sorts of helpful signs for the Takayama Festival at the main TI pic.twitter.com/DPtEp89Rcu
— Jonathan Khoo (@jonk) October 9, 2014
we took a cab from the hotel (the only one left with rooms is a 10-minute drive out of town) and it dropped us off across the Miyagawa River at the south end of the old town’s main drag, Omotesando St. (the picture at the start of the post). the night parade had already started so we rushed up Omotesando towards the shrine to catch the tail end of it. be sure to pick up information flyers and pamphlets from the Tourist Information booth when you exit the train station.
(more pictures on flickr)
the large yatai are pulled and pushed through the streets of the old town by traditionally-dressed men, and every time they have to negotiate a corner, there’s an elaborate way of turning them that involves stopping, placing long levers(?) in appropriate places, tilting the float, and then spinning it around so it’s facing in the correct direction. inside the float are flute players or drum players or people plaintively (or so it sounds to me) singing.
the exterior of the floats are decorated with lanterns, as are the pedestrian-only streets, which makes it great for taking photos, although it’s best if you have a tripod (which i don’t have) and a fancy camera (which i sort of have).
here’s a video of a float approaching and turning around:
not only is there a parade, but stall after stall of street food vendors. as you make your way up to the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine, the crowds thin out and there’s a nice calm that settles in. really refreshing since there are so. many. people.
i can’t believe i was able to take this following picture with my camera (a Sony RX 100 II) AT NIGHT, without a tripod. pretty damn impressive!
last, but not least, though:
japanese festival food
SO MUCH TO EAT. you MUST go hungry! (and you will leave full!)