The Takayama Festival (高山祭, Takayama Matsuri) is ranked as one of Japan's three most beautiful festivals alongside Kyoto's Gion Matsuri and the Chichibu Yomatsuri. It is held twice a year in spring and autumn in the old town of Takayama and attracts large numbers of spectators.
Map of the Takayama Festival:
The Spring Festival (April 14-15) is the annual festival of the Hie Shrine in the southern half of Takayama's old town. Since the shrine is also known as Sanno-sama, the spring festival is also called Sanno Festival.
Likewise, the Autumn Festival (October 9-10) is the annual festival of the Hachiman Shrine in the northern half of the old town, and the festival is also known as Hachiman Festival.
The spring and autumn festivals have similar attractions and schedules. Each festival features its own set of about a dozen festival floats (yatai). During the year, the tall and heavily decorated floats are stored in storehouses, which are scattered across Takayama's old town (except the floats exhibited in the Yatai Kaikan). A set of replica floats are, furthermore, exhibited around the year at the Matsuri no Mori festival museum.
Main attractions of the Takayama Festival:
Display of festival floats
April 14 and 15: 9:30 to 16:00
October 9 and 10: 9:00 to 16:00
From morning to late afternoon of both festival days, the festival floats (yatai) are displayed in the streets of Takayama. When the weather is bad, the floats remain in their storehouses, but the doors of the storehouses are opened so that visitors can still take a look at them.
April 14: 11:00 and 15:00 - April 15: 10:00 and 14:00
October 9: 12:00 and 15:00 - October 10: 11:00 and 13:00
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.
April 14: departs the shrine at 13:00 - April 15: returns at 16:00
October 9: departs the shrine at 13:00 - October 10: returns at 16:00
A portable shrine (mikoshi) is carried around the town in a parade during the two days of the festival, starting and ending at the respective festival's shrine. The mikoshi contains the shrine's kami (Shinto deity). The festival is the only time of the year when the deity leaves the shrine to be carried around town.
April 14: from around 18:30 to around 21:00
October 9: from around 18:00 to around 21:00
In the evening of the first day, the festival floats are pulled through the streets of Takayama's old town for about two to three hours. The evening festival (yomatsuri) is considered the festival's highlight by many visitors. In case of bad weather, the evening festival may have to be canceled.
The Takayama Festival is a very popular event, visited by several hundred thousand people from across Japan and the world. It gets especially crowded if one or both festival days fall on a weekend or national holiday.
As a result, hotels in Takayama get booked out many months in advance, and it is recommended to make hotel bookings as early as possible. Neighboring towns, such as Furukawa and Gero Onsen can also be used as a base for seeing the festival, but going further than that will make it difficult to see the evening festival.