Getting a bed in Takayama around the famous and hugely popular Autumn Festival can be a challenge. By booking months ahead, Veronica and I got a fantastic Japanese style room at the Zenkoji Buddhist Temple right in the centre of town.
Anyway, this post is not about Zenkoji, its about getting a good look at the festival parade!
The Takayama City Government has a great website crammed with details about both the Spring and Autumn Festivals.
Heading out for the night parade (9th October) our Zenkoji host Woody suggested a street corner as the best place to be. At first we were not quite sure why. Later on, we saw how right he was. Silly us not trusting advice of our new Buddhist friend.
Approaching the parade route officious marshals decorated with flashing lights and waving flouro wands were just starting to enforce the closure of roads and hold back pedestrians. While we could not quite get to Woody’s suggested spot, we ended up on what is best described as an ‘S’ bend where the floats would manoeuvre through 2 turns only about 10 metres apart.
So what’s the significance of this? These floats are huge. About 2 stories high, at times needing aerial cable spaghetti to be gently moved away. But only a couple of metres long and wide, each float only taking the space of a small car on the road. They are not made for turning.
Ornate lanterns spectacularly lit the floats. Most floats had young kids perched on the top beating drums or playing flutes.
At each corner, groups of men and women strained to lift the float just enough so another could warily insert a small turning wheel or some other more rudimentary steering device. Then lines of sweaty men tug on thick ropes to swing the float around 90 degrees. Turn 1 done.
Each turn takes an eternity. And this is right in front of us, happily locked in firstly by marshals and secondly by the throngs of well behaved families taking up every bit of footpath, enthralled by the spectacle.
And the same slow process at the corner just 10 metres away.
Our S bend soon becomes a traffic jam so many floats end up stopped for minutes on end. A dozen tigers dancing for individual children – the trick being to pat the tiger on the head without it ‘biting’ you. Puppeteers performing for a select few. Dancers swinging for a captive crowd.
If you get the chance to take in a local festival, big or small – do it. And remember – if there is a parade, find yourself a corner!