The Japanese town of Takayama is famous for its twice-yearly festival, ranked as one of Japan’s three most beautiful.
The ancient festival features a parade of heavily and brightly decorated floats (yatai) which date from the 17th century. There are 23 with 12 featuring in the Spring festival in April and the remaining 11 being taken out of their storehouses and paraded at the Autumn festival in October.
The visited the “Takayama Festival Floats Museum”:http://www.hidahachimangu.jp/english/index.html to learn a little bit more. We paid ¥820 (£5.50) to get in which seemed expensive compared with other attractions we’d visited. We were given an old fashioned transistor radio with cassette tape which provided lots of information in English. Unfortunately, as I discovered, the pause button didn’t work, and when pressed and re-started, it took me irritatingly back to the beginning. It was just as well it wasn’t busy as there were no headphones. We’d always imagined Japan would be really high tech so were very surprised at their ancient audio equipment.
Four floats were displayed with them being rotated regularly. They were around 30 foot high and very elaborate and colourful. The four we saw were::(1) Hoju-tai decorated with various coloured gems, (2) Daihachi-tai named after the design of the wheels, (3) Sennin-tai with a sad monk in the middle and (4) Hotei-tai or Float of Good Fortune which had three marionettes each with 36 strings requiring 8 people to operate them.
Some floats had three wheels which are easier to turn round corners than those with four. The latter have to put down another wheel, whilst a jack raises up the two front wheels, thereby turning it into a three wheel float.
We also saw an ancient portable shrine which is said to have taken 80 men to carry. Apparently they now have a smaller version as they couldn’t find 80 men of the same height.
There was a photographic display of past festivals and we could see the huge crowds that the event attracts. A short ten-minute video (with some English subtitles) showed the festival by day and night when all the floats are lit by lanterns.
At the end of our trip we had our photograph taken holding some sort of small red furry mascot and were presented with a miniature version and encouraged to buy the full size version – we declined.
Our ticket allowed us to enter the nearby Sakurayama Nikkokan museum which was a dimly lit room full of wooden models of various shrines and temples which apparently had taken 15 years and 33 craftsmen to make. However, there was no information in English and we couldn’t really fathom out what it was all about. Near the exit was a display of clothing and a sign saying you could try on the firemans jacket at reception, which Roy grudgingly did for me.