A Tales of Fortuitous Love @ Takayama, Japan
Updated: Feb 27
Late spring in 2017, I injured my knee in Tokyo cha-ya (tea house) where I accidentally twisted my knee after sitting in Japanese style for 30 minutes. However, I made still my way to the next destination (limping-haha) in the list, Tateyama to witness the famous Japanese Kurobe Alpine route. But to my horror, I booked my hostel and a train ticket to Takayama instead. Do you see the similarities in the name? TaTEyama and TaKAyama. Haha.
It was late evening when I finally reach Takayama and upon checking in, the friendly receptionist told me that the annual Spring Takayama Festival is just around the corner. I was like 'WOW'. This going to be my first festival outside of Malaysia and Singapore. Even more surprising, double festival ( the combination of Spring and Autumn festival) was held. The double festival was last held 50 years ago.
What so SPECIAL about Takayama?
Takayama is a one of kind city in Japan. The name Takayama (高山）literately mean high mountain reflecting its relatively high altitude. As it was isolated from other major Japanese cities Takayama still retains it old times charm into the 20th century. Here, you can stroll in centuries-old town and pay a visit to the nearby traditional village of Shirakawa-go which is 1 of the only 2 remaining villages with gasshō-zukuri left in Japan. I will share more about Shirakawa-go on another post.
Things to Do in Here 1 - Takayama Matsuri
The biggest attraction here is the Takayama Matsuri. Doubted as one of three biggest matsuri (festival) to feature floats (Yatai) in Japan alongside with Gion Matsuri in Kyoto and Chichibu Night Festival. It was held twice yearly on Spring (Sanno Matsuri) and Autumn Festival (Hachiman Matsuri). Although the purpose of the festival is different, they are remarkably similar to each other.
Sanno Matsuri - Held yearly on 14 to 15 April to pray for good harvest. Hachiman Matsuri - Held yearly on 9 to 10 October for good harvest thanksgiving.
I was really lucky as in 2017 during my visit, a 'double festival' was held. In a normal year, Spring festival was held in the southern side of Yasugawa Street and Autumn festival was held in the northern side of Yasugawa Street. It means, the scale of 2017 event is much grand than previous and all Yatais (float) from both spring and autumn festival will parade on the street where all 23 Yatais (12 from Spring festival and 11 from Autumn festival) will be taking part in the festival.
Photos above show the gathering of Yatais on the morning of the festival. The Yatais was gathered at various locations around the town.
As a boy from a small town in a tropical country, I had never experienced the magic of spring. At here, it was the first time I had falling Sakura to my face accompanied by comfortable spring's wind. Finally, my first spring is here😊.
While enjoying the beautiful floats, another main event of the festival unfolded; the Karakuri Marionette Performance. If you have the opportunity to be there, try to look for this special Yatais with puppet on the top of it (as picture below). According to locals, there are three of them. Gotta spot them all.
This is Hoteitai, a special Yatai dedicated to the Kami (god or deity) residing in the shrine. Below the Yatai, hidden inside the curtain are a group of skilled puppeteers who mechanically control the puppets with string to executed this elegant movement.
After a quick lunch at a local Ramen shop (which is a speciality here), I immediately hit back to the street to join the crowd for the procession of Yatais along the town.
No modern machinery was used in the procession. These heavy Yatais was pulled and pushed manually by hand. Here, you can feel the camaraderie of the locals.
Accompany the Yatais are several hundred local performers in traditional costumes. Here you can see Japanese lion dance (Shishimai), flute players and Tokeiraku people.
Finally, some time to recharge myself and my cameras as the day session of the festival ended at around 4 pm.
When the last sunlight of the day kisses the horizon, it finally time for Round 2 of the festival. Imagine witnessing the festival at the beautiful twilight. Along the main street of the town, the Yatais armed with glowing lantern reflecting the beauty of the decorative gold and lacquer of the wood is once again making it's rounds around the town. Police and local town council peoples were there to control the crowd. But apparently, there are nothing much for them to control as the attendees (mostly Japanese) are polite.
One can feel a more serene and less chaotic atmosphere at the night festival as more musical performers accompany the Yatais on it's walk around the town.
Another thing that amaze me is how the Yatais make a sharp turn at the junction of the road. Below the Yatais, there is another wheel which will be winched down at the junction to enable the Yatais to make a sharp 90-degree turn.
The night procession end at around 9 pm where all the Yatais will returning to their home.
Photo shows one of the Yatais returned to it's 'home'. See you again next year 来年またね.
Book your accommodation in advance if you wish to join the festival as this festival is also very popular with Japanese.
Near the train station, there is an information centre. Drop by to obtain more information such as the route, schedule and activities to be held.
Try to start your festival hopping at the Nakabashi Red Bridge.
If you want to see how the Yatais make the sharp turn, find yourself a good spot at any road junction.
Things to Do in Here 2 - Morning Market
The local market was held daily in two locations in the town. I always enjoy going to the local market as this is where I can see how the local dress, what they ate and how they communicate with each other.
A market is also a place for me to interact with the 'true' locals away from touristic area. The beautiful and genuine smile can easily be found here.
And if you are looking for genuine local produce, this is the best place to find it.
And most importantly, you can get your food or souvenir at the local price 😊.
Things to Do in Here 3 - Takayama Old Town
The old town of Takayama dated back to Edo Period (1600 to 1868). During this period, Takayama is a wealthy merchant town where it's street was dotted with houses of wealthy merchant. These houses are still in good condition even after so many years.
There are many museum and shrine here that you can visit. I strongly recommend Takayama Jinya and Takayama Museum of History and Art. At the museum, I get to know more about local history and art. The information in the museum come in English to cater to us, the foreigner. Do you think the nail head concealer is a rabbit or a pig? Haha
Things to Do in Here 4 - Hida Folk Village
Due to time constraint, I was not able to visit this folk village. However, my local friend (Kikue-san) had made a video on it. Let check it out below.
*Video made by Daisy in Takayama
Things to Do in Here 5 - Shirakawa-Go
Shirakawa-go is a small traditional village featuring the ancient gassho-zukuri style houses. And you can only find this kind of houses in only 2 villages in whole Japan. Check out more about it on my future posting.
How to reach Takayama
It is easy to reach Takayama from Tokyo. Basically, you can reach Takayama by the following route.
Hop on JR Tokaido Shinkansen to Nagoya which will take about 100-120 minutes. There are several trains everyday. From Nagoya, change to JR Hida limited express train to Takayama (140 minutes with a train every hour). It will cost around 14 500 yen. If you have Japan Rail Pass, you can utilise it. However, be careful as JR Pass did not cover Nozomi Shinkansen train. So, make sure you are taking Hikari train.
Hop on JR Hokuriku Shinkansen to Toyama. Transfer to JR Hida limited express train to Takayama. It will cost around 15 500 yen. The entire journey via this route will take around 5 hours and unlike Option 1, this route is fully covered by JR Pass.
Getting around in Takayama
If you come by using the train, you will alight at Takayama JR station. Next to the train station is a bus station that serves regional area including Hida Folk Village. As the city itself is quite small, you can easily cover it on foot.
MY TAKE AWAY FROM TAKAYAMA TRIP
1. A lifelong friend was made
On the first night at Takayama, I was alone at the common area searching on the net to re-adjust my itinerary to Tateyama. Suddenly, I was approached by lovely local lady. She introduces herself as Kikue (yes, she is the creators of the Youtube video on Hida Folk Villages above) who work as a nurse at a nearby hospital. She is learning English and she wishes to know more foreigner to practice her English.
She shared more with me about the festival and as well as checking on my injured knee. After a quick inspection, she told me that my knee should be fine after resting for a few days.
As the night grew, we were joined by two more local Japanese and the chat continue till midnight. Initially during the trip, as a newbie in solo travelling, there are many doubts and fear. However, I started to fall in love with solo travelling in Takayama as it makes me realise that solo travelling will enable me to know new friends from all over the world and listen to the stories of the local. This is something that you can't find from group travelling where peoples tend to stick to their group instead of making new friends.
It had been almost 4 years since our first encounter and we still keep in touch. Friendship forever. Kikue-san, 結婚おめでとう。Wishing you a happy newly wedding life.
2. Don't be too hard on myself
The moment I realise I had booked the wrong hostel and train, I started to blame myself because my JR Pass only valid for 14 days and I do not have extra money to spend on additional transportation fees. Although my knee is in very bad condition, I still push myself to complete my pre-planned itinerary. My knee situation becomes worse as the day passed.
As advised by Kikue-san, I stay a few more days in Takayama for my knee to recuperate. Initially, I still plan to go to Kurobe as planned to maximise my time in Japan. During these additional stays, I reflected on my life. From young, we rush to school. Entering society, we rush to earn a living. In the process, even when we are sick, we still push ourselves hard in a race known as rat race. While we obtained monetary gain, it comes at the expenses of our happiness and health.
The trouble with rat race is that even if you win, you are still a rat - Lily Tomlin.
In life, I keep on running even when I was injured or tired. I have no time to stop and take a deep breath and asked myself about the purposes of the races. It makes me realise that it is okay to take a break if you are tired. Be kind to yourself.
A small mistake turns out to be a blessing to me as I started to learn not to push myself too hard and of course, the discovery of this amazing city of Takayama.