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The Sanno Matsuri Festival: Takayama's Glorious Rite of Spring

In the Japanese Alps, where the winters are long and the snows deep, is it any wonder that spring is welcomed wholeheartedly when it finally arrives?  In one alpine town - Takayama - welcoming spring is taken very seriously indeed. 

Each April, as Takayama's legendary cherry trees burst into riotous blossom, the town shakes off its winter lethargy with a four-hundred-year tradition to honor spring's return: the Sanno Matsuri, considered one of Japan's most colorful festivals.

Takayama's Sanno Matsuri dates back to the reign of the Kanamori dynasty; and while the exact origins of the festival have been forgotten, its purpose remains vibrantly current: to salute the arrival of spring and petition the gods for a good harvest.  Takayama's reciprocal autumn festival gives thanks for the bounty of that harvest.  Little has changed since the fifteenth-century in terms of execution: Takayama traditions are tenacious and the most visible of these are the incomparable parade of festival floats or "yatai."  These magnificent multi-tiered wooden structures, some of which date back to the seventeenth-century, are richly decorated with thick drapery, elaborate wooden carvings, exquisite lacquer ware, and intricate metal work.  Takayama boasts a total of 25 festival floats: 12 used in the spring festival, 11 ones for the autumn celebration, and a remaining 2 that are on display in June.  When not in use, they are on display at the fascinating Festival Float Exhibit Hall.  Takayama has the wealthy merchants of seventeenth century Japan to thank for these floats, which garnered coveted "cultural asset" status in modern-day Japan.  Prohibited from displaying their immense wealth in their homes or clothing, these merchants poured their funds into the building of the festival floats, which became the ultimate seventeenth-century status symbol.  It was during this period that the first "karakuri ningyo" or marionettes were created.  These complex, life-sized puppets perform on the floats during the festival, their 36 strings deftly handled by Takayama's master puppeteers.

The parade of the floats is the centerpiece of Takayama's festival.  Accompanied by locals dressed in traditional kimonos and the strains of Japanese music, the floats process proudly by in the daytime, and again at night, lit by a myriad of paper lanterns, creating one of the more memorable and beautiful sights of Takayama's unforgettable rite of spring.

To visit Takayama and the Festival Floats Exhibit Hall, speak to one of Alexander + Roberts' knowledgeable reservation agents about our popular itinerary From Japan's Inland Sea to the Alps: always capped at 16 guests for your maximum enjoyment.

Posted: 6/15/2016 4:02:28 PM by Alexander + Roberts