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Held on Dec. 2-3 by Chichibu Shrine, Chichibu Yomatsuri is one of Japan's Big Three Hikiyama Float Festivals. Ornate floats are pulled along the city's main streets until they reach a large plaza at night where they are lit with lanterns. Fireworks then serve as the climax. Photo: Seibu Chichibu Station
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Kawagoe Matsuri is a parade of ornate floats during the day and evening in the city's old town of traditional buildings. Around 15 floats appear during the festival. Held on the third weekend in Oct. Main road where the festival will climax in the evening.
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Nebuta are giant, wire-frame, paper lanterns shaped in various legendary and macho characters.The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is held in Aomori City in Aomori Prefecture during Aug. 2-7. Nebuta are giant, wire-frame, paper lanterns shaped in various legendary and macho characters such as samurai warriors, demons, and gods. They are fantastic works of art dramatically illuminated from the inside. The floats are paraded along the main streets of the city near Aomori Station every night of the festival.

From August 2 to 6, the Nebuta parade is held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. On the 2nd and 3rd, the parade is geared for the many children who participate by pulling the floats. About 15 large Nebuta floats and some small Nebuta floats for the children are paraded.

The festival's peak period is from the 4th to the 6th when over 20 large Nebuta floats make their rounds. Be sure to see the festival on one of these three nights.

On the 7th, the last day, the parade is in the afternoon from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Later in the evening, the Nebuta floats are put on boats to be highlighted by a fireworks display.

The festival is designated by the government as an Important Intangible Folk Culture Asset and not to be missed if you have the chance. It's well worth the trip up north.
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Held in July, Narita Gion Matsuri Festival has ornate floats pulled on the streets of Narita and to Narita-san temple. Pulling a float on the street
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In front of Seibu Chichibu Station
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One of the picturesque streets of the city.
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The Nebuta floats are judged in a contest and various awards are given.The Nebuta floats are beautiful objects of light. They are swung left and right and all around. The crowd applaud whenever the Nebuta faces them directly. The sculpture's lights inside are powered by a noisy generator on wheels under the float. The parade progresses quickly and the splendid Nebuta figures pass by one after another. You have to be there in person to feel the power and presence of the giant Nebuta. They represent the very soul and spirit of men. It's enough to give you goose bumps.

The Nebuta floats are judged in a contest and various awards are given. The best ones are preserved at the Nebuta-no-Sato (Nebuta Village) after the festival.
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Pulling the float, Narita Gion Matsuri
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Main street crowd
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Children lead the way for a float at Kawagoe Festival.
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According to one story, the Nebuta has its roots in the 8th century.According to one story, the Nebuta has its roots in the 8th century when there was a rebellion in Ezo (Hokkaido). Ordered by Emperor Kanmu to quell the rebellion, generalissmo Sakanoue no Tamuramaro went to Ezo. However, he failed to capture the elusive chief of Ezo who went into hiding in the mountains.

Sakanoue then set up a trap with large votive lanterns which were lit and accompanied by taiko drums and flutes. This lured the curious Ezo chief out of hiding and led to his capture. The large lanterns were the forerunner of the Nebuta.
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Tired from walking, Narita Gion Matsuri
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Floats parked along the main drag.
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The first Nebuta was a large paper lantern made in 1593.According to historical records, the first Nebuta was a large paper lantern made in 1593 by Lord Tamenobu of Tsugaru (now part of Aomori) for the Bon festival in Kyoto. The Nebuta Festival itself started in the late 17th century.
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Ornate float is pulled along the streets toward Chichibu Shrine.
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Preparation for building a Nebuta sculpture starts right after the preceding Nebuta Festival.Preparation for building a Nebuta sculpture starts right after the preceding Nebuta Festival. During fall and winter, Nebuta artists conceive the ideas for the next year's Nebuta floats. The Nebuta figures depict some scene from kabuki or Japanese/Chinese history or legend. Once a theme is chosen, a sketch or design is made and presented to the sponsor (usually a company). Upon approval, actual construction begins.

During February and March, the smaller parts of the Nebuta figure, such as the hands and fingers, are constructed at home with steel wiring.

In May, a tent village is put up. In each tent, full-scale construction of the Nebuta is executed until the end of June. Steel wiring and slender pieces of wood are used to build the frame and props.

After the skeleton of lumber and wire is completed, about 400 light bulbs and fluorescent lights are installed inside. The lights are strategically placed so that the shadow of the lumber pieces is not cast outward.

Then comes the tedious task of pasting washi paper on the wire frame. This is done by highly-skilled housewives who have been doing it for 10 to 20 years. About ten of them work on one Nebuta, taking about 10 days. Since they have to work dextrously in all sorts of contorted positions, it is not a popular job and fewer women are willing to do it.

The paper is cut to fit the exact segment (usually rectangular) on the wire frame. A toothbrush is used to apply glue on the wiring and the paper is pasted and cut. Extra care is taken when the figure's face is papered. About 2,500 sheets of 531 x 393 mm paper are consumed in the process.
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Chichibu Yomatsuri. Also see the video at YouTube.
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Tekomai geisha lead the way for a float at Kawagoe Festival.
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There are fewer than 30 Nebuta artists in the world.The giant white figure is brought to life by a Nebuta artist who paints it all by himself. First, the figure's basic outlines are painted with black sumi ink. Liquid paraffin is then applied to prevent the ink from running. Then colored dyes are painted or sprayed. When it comes to the face, very special care is taken. If he makes a mistake on the face, the paper is torn away and new sheets are pasted on. The very last thing painted on the Nebuta are the eyeballs. They give the sculpture its soul.

The completed Nebuta is lifted from the ground by 50 people onto a 1.5-meter-high wheeled platform. An illumination test symbolizes the Nebuta's completion. To ensure easy movement on the street, the Nebuta float is restricted to a width of 9 meters and a height of 5 meters. The float also bears the name of the sponsoring company or organization. It costs 10 to 20 million yen to build and operate a large Nebuta float. Corporate sponsors think it's money well spent since the Nebuta makes a great advertising vehicle and enhances the corporate image.

Top Nebuta artists are given over 3 million yen to cover labor and materials costs. By the time all the bills are paid, the artist has less than one-third the amount as compensation. Obviously, Nebuta artists are grossly underpaid for their highly-appreciated work. It really is a labor of love, and not for the money.

There are fewer than 30 Nebuta artists in the world, and only three of them work as full-time Nebuta artists. Since there is no money in it, would-be Nebuta artists and apprentices are few. To make it worse, there are no governmental measures to help resolve the problem.
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Tekomai
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The Nebuta festival is a great visual spectacle as well as a sound delight.The Nebuta festival is a great visual spectacle as well as a sound delight. The resounding beat of the taiko drums and the shrill of the flutes give the festival its soul. These are placed at regular intervals throughout the parade. The taiko beat is simple and repetitive, yet powerful and infectious.
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Stage at Chichibu Shrine
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Also see the video at YouTube.
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Distinctly-costumed dancers called haneto.Each Nebuta float is accompanied by thousands of distinctly-costumed dancers called haneto. The huge Nebuta overlook a sea of haneto out in front with their colorful flowered straw hats bobbing up and down. They jerk and jingle and hop all over the road while shouting "Rasse, Rasse, Rassera!" They twist and shout amid reverberating taiko drums and flutes.

Sometimes they form a small circle and dance in unison. Their costumes have little bells which often fall off. Little kids run and pick up the fallen bells on the road. It is a frenzied celebration. If you want to join in the fun, you have to rent or buy a haneto costume (for around ¥10,000).
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Chichibu Shrine
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The parade route is quite long, and it's crowded along the parade route near Aomori Station.The parade route is quite long, and it's crowded along the parade route near Aomori Station. If you want plenty of elbow room while viewing, go toward the end of the parade route where the crowd is sparse.

In recent years, the Nebuta Festival has seen disturbances caused by gate-crashing, young hoodlums. A large police force is put in place to prevent trouble.
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Kawagoe Festival
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Chichibu Shrine offertory bin
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On July 16, the night before the Gion Matsuri Yamaboko Junko parade of floats, the Yoiyama display of floats lit up at night attract huge crowds in central Kyoto. You can also enter some of the grand floats.
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Stage performance at Chichibu Shrine
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Even before evening comes, a large crowd stop to see the Naginata-boko float at Shijo-Karasuma.
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Children's night at Aomori Nebuta MatsuriOn the 2nd and 3rd, the parade is mainly for children who participate by pulling the floats. About 15 large Nebuta floats and some small Nebuta floats for the children are paraded.
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Narita Gion Matsuri
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People vying to see Naginata-boko float.
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Some female haneto taking a break after the festival.
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Narita Gion Matsuri
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Float at Chichibu Shrine
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Bridge to the float.
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Turning the corner
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Maiko alert
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Closeup of carvings on a float.
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Nebuta Danchi village where the floats are stored during the day.During the day, the Nebuta floats are housed in a tent village (Nebuta Danchi) open to the public. Each Nebuta has its own giant, green tent. These are the same tents used when the Nebuta were constructed.
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Float at Chichibu Shrine
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Maiko poses in front of the Naginata-boko float across the street in Kyoto
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Many children come and sit in front of the Nebuta to sketch it.
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A real crowd pleaser. Thanks for posing!
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Moving a float to the starting point.
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Side entrance to Narita-san temple.
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Main drag
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Maiko pose
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This young girl was quite a talented artist who drew the attention of the other kids.
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Mini octopus
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Side street of food and souvenir stalls
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Perhaps she might be able to help paint (or build) the real thing someday.
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Storehouse for a float
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Yamabushi-yama residence opened up for public display
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Steering the float
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Local fire station designed like a float.
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Yamabushi-yama 山伏山
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Gathering at Narita-san temple
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Yamabushi-yama
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Getting into a float.
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Prayers at Narita-san
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How to turn the float.
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Tenjin-yama 天神山
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Sporty police car.
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Narita Gion Matsuri
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Children's kabuki
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Tenjin-yama
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Drag marks
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Floats at night, Kawagoe Festival.
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Souvenir hunters. Cheap geta clogs and yukata (made in China) are sold.
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Musical battle between floats.
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Geta for 600 yen
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Maiko in my midst
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Narita-san during Narita Gion Festival
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A float proceeds to the Otabisho plaza.
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Yoshikawa
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A float proceeds to the Otabisho plaza.
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Yoshikawa: A special treat is that private residences in the old kimono merchant district open up their entryways to show folding screens, kimono, and other treasures.
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Each float has musicians and a performer.
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Taiko drum performance at the Otabisho.
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Yoshikawa
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A float climbs up the Dangozaka slope before entering the Otabisho.
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Matsuzakaya 松坂屋
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団子坂
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Narita Gion Matsuri
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Lion
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Teens in yukata
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Lion for good luck.
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A total of 6 floats arrive. Chichibu Yomatsuri. Also see the video at YouTube.
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If you like women in yukata, see the Yoiyama (or Yoiyoiyama or Yoiyoiyoiyama during the three evenings before the main Gion Matsuri parade).
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With great fanfare, the floats are pulled up the slope.
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Side street to Minami Kannon-yama float
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Minami Kannon-yama float
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Minami Kannon-yama float
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Minami Kannon-yama float and flute players
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Also see the video at YouTube.
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A plastic sheet protects the tapestry from rain (it was a cloudy day)
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Crowd on one of the main streets
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In the Otabisho, a large plaza.
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Crowd on Shijo-dori street
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The festival climaxes with fireworks.
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Crowd and floats on Shijo-dori street as darkness sets in.
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Crowd and floats om Shijo-dori street 四条通り
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Minami-Kannon Yama float
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Chichibu Night Festival climax
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Minami-Kannon Yama float
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Minami-Kannon Yama float 南観音山
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Girls in yukata singing in front of Minami-Kannon Yama float to attract donors.
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The public can enter the float through a small bridge connecting the float to a house.
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One of two floating bridges supported by floating barrels. ドラム缶橋
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I went up to the 2nd floor of the house and lined up to enter the Minami-Kannon Yama float.
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This is near Ogochi Shrine.
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People line up to enter the Minami-Kannon Yama float.
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ドラム缶橋
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Statue of Minami-Kannon inside the house connected to the float.
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Statue of Minami-Kannon inside the house connected to the float.
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ドラム缶橋
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On the narrow bridge to the float.
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The bridge sways as you walk on it.
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On the top deck of the float where the musicians play. It is a very small space.
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The bridge can be disconnected and removed if necessary.
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Front of the float with small taiko drums. They sit on a very narrow bench along the edges.
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Floating drum ドラム缶橋
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Front of the float
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Walking on the bridge
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Bells
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A pole in the middle
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Ceiling
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Outside view from the float
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Outside view from the house connected to the float.
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Outside view from the house connected to the float.
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Bridge to the Minami-Kannon Yama float. 南観音山
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Bridge to the Minami-Kannon Yama float. 南観音山
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Large crowd gather to watch the karakuri puppets perform on the ornate floats. Sign says "Watch out for pickpockets."
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Bridge to the Minami-Kannon Yama float. 南観音山
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Large crowd gather to watch the karakuri puppets perform on the ornate floats.
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Minami-Kannon Yama float. 南観音山
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Only four of the 12 floats have karakuri puppets which perform. Takayama Matsuri, Gifu
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Minami-Kannon Yama float. 南観音山
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The karakuri puppets first appeared on the Takayama Matsuri floats in the 18th century. They were handcrafted by artisans in Kyoto.
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Flute players on Minami-Kannon Yama float. 南観音山
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Japan has three basic types of karakuri puppets based on the region: Kyoto, Nagoya, and Kanto (Tokyo area). The Takayama karakuri are the Nagoya-type.
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Shijo-dori street toward Naginata float
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The puppets come out on a plank sticking out of the float and perform in a mini play with various stunts.
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Shijo-dori street toward Naginata float
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Ryuujintai Karakuri 龍神台からくり
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Shijo-dori street and Naginata float. This area was the most crowded.
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Sanbasou Karakuri 三番叟からくり
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Shijo-dori street and Naginata float. This area was the most crowded.
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Sanbasou Karakuri 三番叟からくり
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Naginata float at night
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Ryuujintai Karakuri 龍神台からくり
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Naginata float at night
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Ryuujintai Karakuri 龍神台からくり
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Naginata float at night
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Ryuujintai Karakuri, Takayama Festival, Gifu 龍神台からくり
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Huge crowd
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The karakuri perfom one float at a time.
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Shakkyoutai Karakuri which transforms into a lion dance. See the video at hidanet.ne.jp. 石橋台からくり
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Ryuujintai Karakuri 龍神台からくり
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Ryuujintai Karakuri throwing confetti. See the video at hidanet.ne.jp. 龍神台からくり
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Street lined with floats.
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Floats are displayed on the street. Takayama Matsuri, Gifu
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Superb embroidery
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Storehouse for a float. 屋台蔵
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Held on April 14, the night procession is the festival's major highlight. 夜まつり曳行
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The floats are lit and paraded on the streets.
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On Nakahashi Bridge.
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The floats cross Nakahashi Bridge.
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Way to Niu Shrine, near Hashimoto bus stop, about 15 min. by bus from Yogo Station. The Chawan Matsuri festival is held by Niu Shrine. The last time was in May 2003. The festival features three floats, a procession, and sacred dances and music.
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I was looking forward to seeing this festival held for the first time in six years on May 4, 2009. I was not disappointed. There were many photo ops. The shrine and festival site was amid lots of greenery.
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This is Takatoki River where the festival participants purify themselves before the festival. The Chawan Matsuri supposed to be held every 3 years, but the lack of funds and people (young ones) has made it much less frequent. 高時川The area is quite rural, with many rice paddies. May 4 is a national holiday (Greenery Day) in Japan, during Golden Week, a string of national holidays in Japan amounting to a spring vacation.
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Near the entrance to Niu Shrine was one of the three festival floats (called dashi 山車 or hikiyama 曳山) named Juhozan (寿宝山). The festival started at 10 am with a Shinto ceremony at the shrine.
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Niu Shrine. The shrine is too small for the floats to enter, so they were positioned in different locations near the shrine and scheduled to move at 11:30 am. 丹生神社 MAP
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