Takayama Festival

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In April when the snow on the mountains which surround the basin of Takayamamelts away and solid ground reappears, Spring finally comes to Hida Takayama.As people joyously celebrate the new season, the sound of drums from festivalsin nearby village shrines echoes in the clear Spring air. The largest festival,the Sanno Matsuri, which is held April 14th and15th is hosted by the Hie Jinja Shrine. It is popularlyknown as the Takayama Spring Festival. Every Spring,people from all over Japan come to Takayama to celebrate this special festival.
After a hot summer when a cool Autumn wind begins to blow, the HachimanMatsuri, held October 9th and 10th, signifies the coming of Autumn. Thus,this festival is called the Takayama Autumn Festival. The Takayama Festivalpopularly refers to these two festivals in Takayama.
Even though the origin of the festival is unknown, it is believed that thefestival started between 1586 and 1692 when the Kanamori family governedthe Hida Takayama area. In a letter dated August 29, 1692, to Kagahan, presentlyIshikawa Prefecture, it was stated that the Takayama Festival had been heldfor the last 40 years.
This festival is regarded as one of the three most beautiful festivals inJapan. The predominant reason for this is that the main attractions of theTakayama Festival are the magnificent floats, which are equal in splendorto the Yomeimon Gate of Nikko Toshogu Shrine.
All floats are beautifully decorated with carvings, dolls, elaborately woventhick curtains, lacquerware, and bamboo blinds. These exquiste decorationsare found not only on the outside where they are seen by the crowds, butalso on the inside, such as under the roof and behind the doors, where eleboratecarvings can be found.
There are many small rivers flowing through the town of Takayama. Traversingthese rivers are numerous small vermillion-colored bridges, and along theriver sides are planted pine and cherry trees. The light-green pine leavesand pink cherry blossoms swaying in the Spring breeze are reflected on thesurface of the rivers. The floats’ intertwining colors of green, vermillion,pink, and gold are a sight to behold : like seeing an enlarged picture scrollof the Dynastic Era. The sight is magnificent and fascinating.

In olden days, the artisants and tradesmen of Takayama, who had accumulatedgreat wealth, were prohibited from using their wealth for the purpose ofupgrading their social standings. Therefore, they used their wealth in beautifyingtheir daily lives. The festival was one outlet for their wealth. Year byyear, the festivals became more and more extravagant.
In the consturction of a float, several households came together to forma community. Each member donated his share toward the construction of thefloat, according to his means. Thus, the float was jointly owned by allthe members of the community. Then, each community started to compete witheach other to have the most beautiful float, which helped make the floatsso special.
It is tradition in the Hida area that the quality and quantity of craftsmanshipare so high that craftsmen, such as carpenters, in this area are well knownas “the artisans of Hida.” Their ancestors greatly contributedto the building of the floats, demonstrating their skills by beautifyingthem.
There are 25 festival floats in Takayama, 12 for Spring, 11 for Autumn,and 2 for others. In june, 1969, Spring and Autumn festival floats weredesignated as important cultural assets by the national government.
Festivals are a mixture of the cultures of various periods. Some eventsoriginated in acient times. Others started from the Middle Ages, and stillothers found their beginnings in modern times. The assimilation of thesefestivals, spanning many centuries, is the foundation of today’s festivals.
Therefore, festival link the past to the present and the present to thefuture. They will no doubt continue to help maintain the people’s peaceof mind.

Pictures:Festival floats of Takayama festival published by Hida takayama tourism association