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Takayama Matsuri(Japan's Festival,9-10 October)

One of Japan's greatest and most beautiful festivals, dating back to the 15th century, the Takayama Matsuri is held twice a year in the city, once in spring and once in autumn.

The two separate festivals are both centered around shrines: the Spring festival around the Hie Jinja shrine, in the southern part of the city, and the Autumn festival on the Sakurayama Hachimangu shrine, in the northern part.

The Takayama festival floats are particularly stunning, even by the standards of other Japanese festivals. They are beautifully decorated with carvings, dolls, thick and elaborately woven curtains, lacquerware and bamboo blinds. Even the inside of the floats are adorned with intricate carvings that cover every surface and door.

Preparations for the festival begin well in advance and the first day of the festival proper begins with a solemn ritual ceremony at the shrine. Following this the procession, featuring all the floats and hundreds of participants dressed up in medieval costumes, begins to march around town. Throughout the day there is music, dancing and traditional marionette performances dedicated to the gods. The celebrations go on into the night, when beautiful scenic processions continue throughout the medieval town - truly a stunning sight.

The second day is the highlight of the festival - marionette performances are held on several of the floats and the god of the shrine visits every household. There are groups of traditional Shinto musicians, mikoshis or palanquins carrying portable shrines and revellers clad in evocative medieval costumes. The day finishes with another solemn ceremony at the shrine.

The beautiful Hie Jinja shrine, which is accessible throughout the year, was originally built in 1141 in the Katano area of the town, but was moved to its present location on Shiroyama Hill in 1586 when the Kanamori family took over governance of Takayama.

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