The Takayama Hachiman Matsuri

No temple festival in India is complete without a procession of the temple chariot around town. Like the Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath in Puri for example…..that incidentally gave the English language the word ‘Juggernaut’!

Originating in the early 17th century, as thanksgiving for a good harvest, and to mark the onset of winter, the Takayama Hachiman Matsuri is also a ‘temple car’ festival. Taking place annually on 9 & 10 October, this autumn festival, is considered one of three most beautiful festivals in Japan, along with Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri and the Chichibu Matsuri in Saitama.

Lion dance performed by local children

But looking at scores of people sitting on kerbs and patiently awaiting the start of the festivities, this seems a far cry from the assault on the senses that is an Indian religious celebration!

A haunting flute like melody and the banging of drums, herald the arrival of the first floats, and the buzz of anticipation heightens. But it is still so amazingly calm and orderly, as it can perhaps, only be in Japan!

And then the procession begins.

The Gyojintai Yatai leads the procession. Note the distinctive costumes

Close-up of Gojintai yatai

Eleven gorgeously hand crafted Yatai (floats) having wound their way across town, finally sail into view. Each a testimony to the superior craftsmanship of this ancient town. Each decorated with intricate wood carving and exquisite silk drapery. Each topped with unique gilded crests, whose meanings we were hard-pressed to decipher…I spotted a phoenix here, a golden turtle there! Every single Yatai decked in myriad lanterns, bathing the onlookers in glowing cascades of amber light.

The Jimmatai Yatai, with the Karakuri Ningyo (marionettes) on top

There are no barricades, and yet not one person steps out on to the street, or disturbs the proceedings in any way, until the whole procession comes to a halt right in front of us. No screaming, no jostling, no fear of pickpockets even! That the audience mostly comprises local tourists is likely one of the reasons 🙂

These original Yatai – designated Japan’s cultural patrimony – have been handed down from generation to generation for centuries, and are now owned by groups known as Yatai Gumi, who passionately maintain them in pristine condition.

And after hauling them through the main streets of Takayama in their distinctive costumes and amidst much fanfare, the Yatai Gumi apparently serenade their individual Yatai, back into their respective Yatai Gura (storehouses) with a special tune, unique to Takayama and sung only at the night festival.

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We celebrate Deepavali in India today, and it is serendipitous that the subject for my entry for Frizztext’s story challenge ‘T’ was a colourful festival!

Wishing all my Indian readers, a magical and joyous festival of lights!

PS:
Stay tuned for a peek into the amazing Karakuri (marionette) performance in front of the Hachiman shrine on day 2 of the Takayama autumn festival. But not until I return home from our extended weekend with the children, and have had time to recover from the overdose of festive cheer (read artery clogging ‘Mithai’) 🙂

Related articles:
The Karakuri Marionettes Of Takayama
Other Posts On Japan