The small town of Takayama is in the mountains, northwest of Tokyo and northeast of Kyoto. Takayama is famous for its historic district and Takayama Matsuri, a festival that takes place twice a year, in spring (Sanno Matsuri, April 14th and 15th) and autumn (Yahata Matsuri, October 9th and 10th).
Takayama's Matsuri (festival) is considered one of the three most beautiful in Japan, started in the 16th century and attracts visitors from all over the country (and foreigners too).
Because of this, the traveler has to book a hotel well in advance, because the offer of hotels in this city is very limited and they are all fully booked during the 2 days of the festival. Options for those who cannot stay in the city are neighboring Furukawa and Gero Onsen.
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How to get to Takayama Matsuri?
There is no direct train from Tokyo to there, the traveler first has to go to Nagoya and then take a bullet train to Takayama, the journey takes between 4-5 hours in total.
From Kyoto there is an express train to Takayama, which also takes 4-5 hours, (be careful not to take a train that stops and takes much longer).
Another important point to remember: the weather! As Takayama is in the mountains, it is much colder than the other cities at sea level – April 2006, there was still some snow in the fields and the temperature was in the range of 5 degrees.
I advise you to buy gloves and a hat in town, otherwise you could end up freezing to death, especially at night, when the parade of floats takes place on the first day of the festival.
Takayama Matsuri attractions
The festival's attractions are the floats (yatai), which are a cultural heritage of Japan, and on these days they are displayed on the city's streets (in case of rain, they are displayed in their "garages" in different parts of the city.
The cars on the streets are really fantastic: all carved in wood or metal, lacquered, painted to the smallest detail and with gold-plated ornaments. They are truly mobile treasures, each one is hundreds of years old and the pride of this artisan city.
The spring festival floats are different from the autumn ones, there are 12 in spring and 11 in autumn (according to websites and travel guides). At the end of the day, at 18:30, the night procession begins, with the floats lit by lanterns and carried through the streets of the city, and children waving on top of the cars.
Some of the cars have their own music, and in others adults and children play flutes (on top of the car or walking in front and behind). The night parade only takes place on the night of the first day of the festival, if it is not raining.
On the second day, the program is the same, with the exception of the night parade: the cars are exposed on the streets during the day, there are puppet shows at two different times (morning and afternoon) and the daytime procession (on the first day the altar is taken from the temple to another location, and on the second day he returns to the temple, ending the festivities).
If you visit Takayama outside of Festival days, you can see some of the floats at the Yatai Kaikan, which is a special hall to showcase 4 of the 25 cars during the year (the cars are not always the same, they change a few times a year) .