The Yatai are huge floats made of wood and decorated with detailed carvings, lacquerware, curtains and dolls, which date form the 17th century and form Takayama Festival's most iconic image. Throughout the year the Yatai are stored indoors, but during the festival days they are lined up on the town's streets, so that visitors and worshippers can admire such an impressive work of traditional craftmanship.
The mikoshi are portable shrines containing deities, which usually reside in the Hachiman and Sanno Shrines but are carried around Takayama in a procession during the two days of the festival. This processions consist on a parade of several hundred people playing traditional music and dancing around the mikoshi, in order to purify the streets of the town and get rid of unwanted devils.
The Karakuri are traditional marionette performances dedicated to deities. The marionettes are sophisticated, highly detailed and well articulated dolls, made out of wood and dressed in traditional clothes, which are mounted on top of some tall Yatai. They are operated from inside the Yatai by using a complex string system and require up to 9 people to make them move.
On the first night of both festivals, once the sun has set, the Yatai are decorated with several hundred paper lanterns and are pulled through the streets of Takayama's old town. Once the parade has ended, the Yatai are pulled back to their storehouses to the rhythm of a special tune sung only on this occasion. The Night Parade is considered as one of the highlights of the Festival.
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Takayama festival is mainly centered around Takayama's old town, with all of its activities being within walking distance of each other. The old town can be reaced in a 10 to 15 minute walk from Takayama Station, or by riding the sightseeing bus.