Edo merchant houses and speciality shops are open to view in exquisitely preserved streets of Takayama. Aesthetically pleasing designs are everywhere. Bonsai trees, hand drawn signs, sake barrels and calligraphy on door curtains decorate the shop fronts. The Old Private Houses and streets are so pristine and enchanting.
The festival floats (yatai) are kept in storehouses (yatai-gura) dotted around the city. Four of the 11 autumn festival floats are displayed in the exhibition hall. They are ornately decorated with lacquer, carved gilded wood and metalwork. Spot the Karakuri puppets incorporated in the floats. A video screening portrays its history and the actual event. The festival began about 350 years ago and flourished when Takayama’s importance grew as Japan’s distribution centre for timber.
A hidden gem is inside this small and unassuming museum. A series of intricately detailed reproductions, one-tenth scale of the Nikko-Toshogu sights, fill the room. Overwhelmingly beautiful masterpieces were recreated by 33 carpenters over 15 years. The exactness and proportions of such striking architecture is astonishing. The museum uses computerised lighting to imitate the sunrise and sunset at Nikko. It is a definite highlight and a must-see.
Karakuri Museum has the most extensive collection of Karakuri dolls in the world. These dolls are traditionally mechanised puppets that perform on the floats in the Takayama Matsuri Festival. The winding mechanism of the dolls was inspired by a watch repairer in 1617. Each puppet is made by hand and given specific roles to play. Every move is calculated with great precision. A presentation of how they are made is given, followed by several short performances. The puppets display their unique talents on stage.
This is a two hour walk. The main central section has a pathway leading to 10 temples and two shrines. A pleasant walk reveals multiple temple gardens and monuments. In the temple gardens follow stone paths past ponds, manicured trees and bronze statues. Listen to the deep vibrating sounds of the large bells (bonsho). Enjoy the variety of temple grounds and their tranquil surroundings.
Takayama Jinya was a government branch office from 1692 to 1969 and is now a National Historic Site. It is the only one remaining of its kind in Japan. A series of traditional tatami mat rooms contain documents and historical memorabilia. Law courts dealt with criminal cases inside Takayama Jinya. The interrogation room displays implements used to torture prisoners. In the rice storehouse (onkura) are piles of straw sacks, filled with 60kg of rice from farmers as tax payments.