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The Easiest Japanese Festival to Attend

Japanese matsuri, or festivals, are not for the faint of heart. I mean this literally! Since most of them take place during the hottest part of summer, it’s actually dangerous for people with cardiac problems to pursue them too vigorously.

Indeed, even for those of us with relatively normal heart function, the Japanese summer is not an easy thing to endure. And I say that as someone who has lived in Texas, Florida and Southeast Asia!

The Takayama Festival, which occurs twice per year in both April and October, avoids the punishing weather of most other matsuri. This is not the only reason to attend, of course, but it certainly sweetens the deal.

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When is the Takayama Festival?

I recently, attended the Takayama Spring Festival, which takes place every year between April 14-15. The timing of this is really nice, as in some years, it aligns perfectly with the full bloom of the cherry blossoms. Even on years when this is not the case, however, you’ll experience some sakura action. Plus, you’ll enjoy balmy days, even if the nights can get cool at times.

Although the Takayama Autumn Festival has a similar feel (at least in terms of the floats and processions), it’s not quite as seasonally beautiful. That’s because it occurs between October 9-10. Although this may have been around the peak of autumn color decades ago, it’s now before the first trees even start changing colors. As a result, in my opinion, it doesn’t even really feel like fall.

What to Do at the Takayama Festival

See the floats set out in the morning

 

I always love walking across the iconic Nakabashi bridge on a morning in Takayama, but this is especially enjoyable during the Takayama Festival. While some of the festival floats are set up just off the west side of the bridge (so, toward Takayama Station), the majority are located in the Old Town on the other side of the river, or just north of the Sanmachi Suji Old Street

Watch the beginning of the procession

 

If you come to the Takayama festival in spring, you’ll want to head to Hie Shrine at 1 PM on the first day to watch the beginning of the procession of floats. If you come in autumn, meanwhile, the procession will began at Sakurayama Hachiman-gu, at around the same time. If you come to either shrine a bit early, you can read more about the significance of each to its respective festival.

Enjoy snacks and drinks

 

As is the case with summer matsuri, the Takayama Festival sees food and drink stalls set up. What’s special here, however, is that many food items focus on Hida Beef. While this local style of beef is less popular than Wa-gyu from Kobe or even Matsusaka, it’s extremely delicious, especially when it’s served as unique “beef sushi.”

Wait for the money shot

 

One reason I think the Takayama autumn festival is an inferior option when compared to spring’s? It is only during spring that sakura billows seem to engulf the floats as they parade through town. This looks especially impressive if you look southward toward the aforementioned Nakabashi bridge, ideally from Ikadabashi just to its north. Floats generally move across the bridge at around 6 PM, though this is not a set time.

Stick around for the yoimatsuri

 

As you might remember if you read any of my dispatches from Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri in 2023, I often prefer the ambiance and atmosphere of a given yoimatsuri (i.e. night festival) as opposed to its counterpart during the daytime. The same is true in Takayama. I love hanging out in the sakura-shaded park just south of Nakabashi on the east bank of the river, in particular, though many other vantage points are great as well.

Is the Takayama Festival Worth It?

The Takayama Festival doesn’t require a huge investment of time or energy, broadly speaking. The main thing is that you’ll need to book your hotel as far in advance as possible (likely at least six months before the festival); you should also probably book your train or bus early if you can. Apart from these factors, visiting Takayama during the spring or autumn festival will be like any other trip to the city.

To put it another way, given that how to visit Takayama Festival is not really rocket science, the Takayama Festival is absolutely worthwhile. The main question you need to ask yourself is where you plan to be in Japan during one of the two festivals periods, and whether there’s anywhere else in the country that might be more deserving of your time during the relevant dates.

Other FAQ About the Takayama Festival

What does the Takayama Festival celebrate?

Simply put, the Takayama Spring Festival celebrates the coming of spring; the Takayama Autumn Festival coincides with various local preparations for winter, rather than (necessarily) the arrival of fall. While there are spiritual and religious intricacies above and beyond these main ideas, the general rationale of the festivals is pretty simple.

What is the Takayama Autumn Festival?

The Takayama Autumn Festival takes place between October 9-10 every year, and is essentially a thanksgiving festival. Additionally, it coincides with the period of the year where locals would traditionally begin preparing for the onset of winter.

Where is Takayama Spring Festival?

The Takayama Spring Festival takes place primarily within Takayama’s Old Town, with the main processing start at the Hie Shrine in the southern part of the city. However, some of the floats are just over the Miya River from the old town on the other side of the Nakabashi bridge, over which locals parade them back and forth several times throughout the day.

The Bottom Line

The Takayama Festival is one of my favorite matsuri I’ve attended in Japan—and not just because I was able to go without passing out from heat stroke. If you choose the Takayama Spring Festival (as I did), you’ll enjoy plentiful cherry blossoms framing the floats parading through the city, even if you might not get as lucky as me with regard to the blooming situation. Even if you go for the autumn edition—which, fair warning, takes place about a month before the leaves chance—you can still enjoy a festive atmosphere and good weather. Need personalized help planning your Takayama festival adventure? Consider hiring me to help!

 

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