Takayama is known for its two famous festivals, which date back to the 17th century. One in autumn and one in spring, when 11 (autumn) or 12 (spring) huge elaborate yatai (floats), adorned with medical dolls are paraded around town, a spectacle that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors.
The yatai are symbolic of the economic might of Takayama’s erstwhile rich and each is a collection of Japan’s traditional craftsmanship in its own right.
In the Takyama Yatai Kaikan, a large exhibition hall, four shrines are exhibited. They are rotated.
So at least once a year all eleven floats and the golden mikoshi (portable shrine) are displayed inside the huge hall. All the other floats, that are not on display, are stored in tall storehouses around Takayama.
The spring festival is on April 14 and 15, the autumn festival is on October 9 and 10 each year. It started as a thanksgiving ceremony to offer gratitude to the gods for bumper harvests. Once the autumn festival is over, Takayama prepares for a long, snowy winter.
Next to the hall is the Sakurayama Nikkokan, a hall displaying a dazzling one-tenth-scale replica of 28 buildings from Nikko’s Toshogu shrine. The entrance to this hall is included in the (expensive) ticket to see the yatai.
These small replicas are breathtaking – lots of detail, and with the computer controlled sunrise and sunset, the different facades glitter in the fake sun.
Both exhibition halls are on the grounds of the Sakurayama Hachimangu. A shrine dating back to the fourth century.
In 1683, through the benefaction of Lord Kanamori, the shrine was enlarged and offcially established for the protection of the town.
The shrine was quiet when we visited – not many people were around. Still we could see the signs that people regularly come, visit and pray at the temple.