We boarded the JR for Takayama, a 2 1/2 hour trip, to witness the Sanno-sama spring festival or the festival of the Hie Jinja Shrine. The local people of Takayama have been giving thanks for peace and a good harvest since the 16th century. This unique festival features the yatai, the festival floats, 12 in all. They are colorful and carefully crafted traditional symbols of Takayama’s former economic strength and local wealth, particularly during the silk trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. According to legend, the Shinto deity Sanno-sama normally resides in a shrine to the south, but travels through Takayama for 2 days in April to celebrate the coming of spring (a major celebration for a snowbound town). The parade winds through the street sporting lion dancers who purify the streets and rid the town of devils and evil spirits.
The parade’s climax is the Karakuri performance in front of the Otabisho Shrine where 3 yatai, the Sambaso, the Shakkotai, and the Ryujintai marionettes perform highly skilled dances to Noh drama librettos, each telling a story of good conquering over evil. The yatai are examples of the finest Japanese craftsmanship displaying exquisite carvings, textiles, lacquer-work and metal ornaments.
After the parade and performance we took a taxi to the Hida Folk Village (Hida no Sato), a village of traditional farm houses built in the 18th century and moved to Takayama for posterity in the 1950s. Many of the traditional farm houses were quite comfortable, built with thatched roofs at a very steep angle to keep off the heavy snow falls. Fire pits kept the homes warm in winter and doubled as cooking facilities. Many of the farmers became quite wealthy in the silk worm trade, so several farm houses devoted the top 2 or 3 floors to raising silk worms, thus satisfying the European people’s insatiable desire for silk garments. Surrounding the village are rice fields and rotating crops of soybeans, bean sprouts, cabbage, daikon among others. We were also treated to a beautiful view of the Japanese Alps rising more than 10,000’ to the northeast.
After our tour Tsumie located the Bandai Ado Mise restaurant, renown for its local specialty “hiba gyo hoba miso,” or local beef slices seeped in a special miso sauce and cooked on magnolia leaves over a hot flame. Mixed with rice, we had a delicious meal for the end of a long day at the festival.