Takayama Festival, Japan

Takayama Festival, Japan

Takayama Festival, Japan


Celebration Date
14th  to 15th April
Other Name
Holiday Type
Not National Holiday


The Takayama Festivals (Takayama Matsuri) in Takayama in Japan started in the 16th to 17th century. The festivals are believed to have been started during the rule of the Kanamori family. Correspondence dated 1692 place the origin to 40 years prior to that date. One of the festivals is held on the 14th and 15 April and the other on the 9th and 10 October. The Spring Takayama Festival is centered on the Hie Shrine.

The shrine is also known as the Sanno Shrine, and the spring festival is also known as the Sanno Festival. The Sanno Festival is held to pray for a good harvest and the Autumn Festival is for giving thanks.

The festival features processions of large wheeled floats, mikoshi (shoulder borne portable shrines) and marionette performances all to the magnificent

mountain valley backdrop of Hida Takayama. The festival has continued to be protected and cherished by the local people, who demonstrate their traditional folk arts during the event.


Displayed mikoshi (festival floats) 

The festivals are famous for the large ornate floats, or yatai, which roam around the city at night. The floats date back to the 17th century, and are decorated with intricate carvings of gilded wood and detailed metal-work, similar in style to art from Kyoto during the Momoyama period, and blended with elements from the early Edo period. Detailed carving, lacquering and beautiful decorative metal-works is found not only on the outside of the floats, but inside as well, under the roof and behind the panels, where the work is amazingly detailed. The floats are also “gorgeously decorated with embroidered drapery. 

The Yatai floats are lined up before dusk, and once the town becomes veiled in the evening darkness, as many as 100 chochin lanterns are lit on each of the floats. The unique ornaments of the yatai floats look even more resplendent in the darkness of the night”. The floats are moved around the city by people but are wheeled carts and the bearers are not required to endure the load.


Karakuri Doll Show

Several of the festival floats are decorated with so called karakuri ningyo, sophisticated mechanical dolls that can move and dance. Karakuri doll performances are held on both days of the festival at dedicated times and places. During bad weather, the performances take place in the floats' storehouses.



The marionettes are made of wood, silk and brocade or embroidered cloth. They are operated by strings and push rods from within the yatai. “Karakuri (mechanical) puppet plays performed on a stage are superb”. The puppets like the Yatai represent the skilled craftsmen of the area. The three marionettes “on Hotei Tai (the god of fortune)” require 9 puppet masters to manipulate the 36 strings which make the marionettes move in a lifelike manner, with gestures, turns and other movements. A problem with the puppets are parts needed to repair the puppets. The springs in the puppets are made of Right whale baleen and cannot be replaced with steel springs or the baleen of other whales. Other materials used to make the springs cannot duplicate the movements of the springs made with Right whale baleen.

This is still common practice in households but many people will attend a shrine or temple's spring festival where this is done. The beans are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health with them.




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