Every year on April 14th and 15th, the Takayama Spring Festival (Sanno Matsuri) is held. It’s an annual festival for Hie Jinja Shrine and tells of the arrival of spring. This is one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan and definitely worth seeing if you happen to be in Japan during this time. We planned our trip around it and we’re so glad we had the opportunity to see it!
The festival floats are referred to as ‘yatai’ and they were built by wealthy merchants back in the late 17th century. There are 12 floats but one of them was in for restoration. The three-tier floats all have exquisite carvings, ornaments, gold gilding, and they are invaluable cultural assets. Each one is unique and they look so old and fragile. Each float reflects the district in Takayama to which it represents and during both days the festival floats are displayed in the streets.
If it rains, and unfortunately it did on the first day, then the floats are moved inside and displayed in their storage houses. They leave the doors open so you can still see them. They truly are remarkable!
Luckily on the second day the weather was much better! It was interesting to see how they pulled and maneuvered the floats through the narrow streets of the old town, it looked quite tricky at times.
In addition, some floats feature ‘Karakuri’ (marionette), and performances are held twice a day. Like the floats, the puppet show is also registered as a cultural asset. If you want a decent view then it’s best to go early to get a good vantage point.
On the second day, people dressed in traditional costumes such as ‘kamishimo’ (samurai costume) parade around the festival area with a portable shrine which carries the deity. Shishimai performers (lion dance) and tokeiraku people join the parade as well. They all make their way across the Nakabashi bridge.
Check out our video that highlights the events over the two days of festivities.
Takayama has a beautifully preserved old town dating from the Edo Period (1600-1868). It was awesome to just roam all the streets and pop in and out of the little shops.
One of our favourite places to pop in were the Sake Breweries, recognized by balls of cedar branches hanging over their entrance. Some of them have been in business here for centuries, they offered tastings and explained all the ins and outs of sake making. It’s actually quite similar to wine making.
These Sarubobo Dolls are everywhere in Takayama, they are a Japanese amulet found mostly in the Hida region. The word ‘Saru’ literally means monkey and ‘bobo’ is what people call a baby – Sarubobo means monkey baby. Traditionally they were made as a charm and given as good fortune to someone important to you. They are also believed to aid women with easy childbirth. The dolls are also said to protect the owner from bad things. We definitely bought some (small ones) because we figure we could use some protecting!
We had a day without all the festivities so we did the Higashiyama walking course. This walk took us through Takayama’s temple town and Shiroyama park which was the former site of Takayama Castle.
Our time in Takayama was absolutely wonderful, especially with being able to see the festival. Our Ryokan was great and offered us a private traditional onsen (hotspring) which we enjoyed every single night!
Where we stayed: Oyado Yoshinoya 👍