Takayama Hachiman Festival

A marvelous glimpse of Takayama’s splendid Autumn Festival

It was with great excitement when our Japanese hosts announced that we will have a glimpse of Takayama’s famous Autumn Festival. And who wouldn’t? Takayama’s Spring (April 14 & 15) and Autumn (October 9 & 10) Festivals is considered as one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan together with Kyoto’s Gion and Saitama’s Chichibu Night Festivals.

And, unlike most of the festivals here in the Philippines that were developed just recently and for tourism, Japan’s is historic, have been performed for centuries and the pomp and pageantry is paralleled by its great craftsmanship and woodwork. In Takayama’s festivals which involves the procession of area yatai or elaborate processional carts, are considered tangible folklore assets.

The streets were already deserted when we arrived and hurriedly walked to the area near the Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine, affectionately known as the Hachiman-Sama. Takayama is guarded by two deities: to the northern half is Hachiman, who’s festival, also called the Hachiman Festival, is celebrated during Autumn and probably started in the late 16th or early 17th centuries as a thanksgiving to the gods for bumper harvests. The southern half is guarded by the Sanno-sama located at the Hie Jinja Shrine and the Spring Festival is also called the Sanno Festival.

It is during these two festivals that the deities go around town. In the Hachiman Festival, the Hachiman-sama rides the mikoshi portable shrine and is escorted by locals in kamishimo dress. Musicians and dragon dance performers join the parade. In the square below the Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine, the Hoteitai yatai is located wherein puppets perform twice daily in the two day celebration.

It was really a marvelous experience to see all these beautiful processional floats/carts, locals in various traditional attires and knowing the interesting stories behind this festival. And of course, the yatai are stunning! They’re elaborately made with intricate woodwork and drapes, puppets, metalworks and decors. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to witness the night festival wherein the eleven yatai are pulled around town bedecked in hundreds of lanterns and I can just imagine who splendid it will look.

Soon. I will be back to witness this again.

The Hoteitai yatai, one of eleven yatais or wooden processional carts with intricate woodwork and wonderful craftsmanship. The Hoteitai is placed at the square just below the shrine but separate from the rest of the yatais. It bears a puppet image of the priest Hotei and two others, a boy and a girl and are controlled through an intricate setup of strings. The puppets perform in the morning and afternoon of October 9 and 10.

The Hoteitai yatai, one of eleven yatais or wooden processional carts with intricate woodwork and wonderful craftsmanship. The Hoteitai is placed at the square just below the shrine but separate from the rest of the yatais. It bears a puppet image of the priest Hotei and two others, a boy and a girl and are controlled through an intricate setup of strings. The puppets perform in the morning and afternoon of October 9 and 10.

The view from the steps of the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine where beyond the torii gate are the ten colorful yatais which are processional structures

The view from the steps of the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine where beyond the torii gate are the ten colorful yatais which are processional structures

The lineup of ten yatai as seen from the torii gate

The lineup of ten yatai as seen from the torii gate

Images of priests and horse atop the Jimmatai. Beside it is the top of the Kyuhosha yatai.

Images of priests and horse atop the Jimmatai. Beside it is the top of the Kyuhosha yatai.

Young boys as lion-dance performers purify the streets and rid them of devils during the procession

Young boys as lion-dance performers purify the streets and rid them of devils during the procession

A member of the yatai-gumi group takes a rest before the yatai procession

A member of the yatai-gumi group takes a rest before the yatai procession

The lineup of ten yatai as seen from the far end of the road leading to the shrine

The lineup of ten yatai as seen from the far end of the road leading to the shrine

Details of different yatai, clockwise from top right: side of Jimmatai, Kaguratai front, lower side of Jimmatai and an effigy atop the Gyojintai

Details of different yatai, clockwise from top right: side of Jimmatai, Kaguratai front, lower side of Jimmatai and an effigy atop the Gyojintai

The Priest Hotei as a puppet with two other puppets atop the Hoteitai yatai at the square below the shrine. Skilled puppeters operate these three during the twice a day performance on October 9 and 10.

The Priest Hotei as a puppet with two other puppets atop the Hoteitai yatai at the square below the shrine. Skilled puppeters operate these three during the twice a day performance on October 9 and 10.

The Daihachitai (left) and Kaguratai (right), two of eleven yatai in Takayama that are specific to the Autumn Festival. Takayama is divided into areas and each areas have their own yatai. These are considered by the Japanese government as tangible cultural/folklore assets. Because of the importance and delicate nature of these antique assets, these yatai are only paraded once a year during this festival and when it rains, the procession is cancelled. A separate group of yatai goes out during the Spring Festival that is held every April 14 and 15.

The Daihachitai (left) and Kaguratai (right), two of eleven yatai in Takayama that are specific to the Autumn Festival. Takayama is divided into areas and each areas have their own yatai. These are considered by the Japanese government as tangible cultural/foklore assets. Because of the importance and delicate nature of these antique assets, these yatai are only paraded once a year during this festival and when it rains, the procession is cancelled. A separate group of yatai goes out during the Spring Festival that is held every April 14 and 15.

Left, local in kamishimo dress will escort the mikoshi portable shrine that the deity Hachiman-sama rides during the Goshinko Procession; right, a member of the yatai-gumi group who will pull their area's yatai during the parade and night festival

Left, local in kamishimo dress will escort the mikoshi portable shrine that the deity Hachiman-sama rides during the Goshinko Procession; right, a member of the yatai-gumi group who will pull their area’s yatai during the parade and night festival

Thanx to Cebu Pacific Air for this trip!

Cebu Pacific Air, the leading airline in the Philippines, flies between Manila and Nagoya (Chubu Centrair International Airport) every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Ongoing all-in seat sale fares start from P6,388, for travel from December 17, 2015 to March 31, 2016. Book your flights through the CebuPacificAir.com. For updates and seat sale announcements, check out www.facebook.com/cebupacificair.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

One Comment

  1. Estan Cabigas (@EstanCabigas)
    March 19, 2016 @ 1:11

    A marvelous glimpse of Takayama’s splendid Autumn Festival: The Hoteitai yatai, one of eleven yatais or wooden… https://t.co/eRCC1FwLMx

Tell me what you think