The Satoyama Experience in the Hida Area
By Marine Conte
When I arrived in Takayama, I discovered a city rich in history but also rich in the friendliness and warm hospitality of the people living there. “The Little Kyoto of the Alps” is the nickname given to it, for its many historical monuments and its grid-like layout as the former Japanese capital. In Gifu Prefecture and specifically in the Hida area, Takayama is nestled in the hollow of mountains up to 3,000 meters high. It is a quiet town, a few hours from the crowds of Tokyo and one which you should absolutely not miss.
Takayama is known for its festivals; they are among the three most beautiful in Japan. The Sanno Matsuri ? ? ? ? is held on the 14th and the 15th April and the Hachima Matsuri ? ? ? ?, is held on the 9th and the 10th October every year. Hundreds of years ago, Takayama cultivated rice and depending on the temperatures, the amount of rice harvested varied. When there was an excess of rice harvested, they could produce sake and sell it. With this money, they built floats, called yatai ? ?. These floats are hundreds of years old and are an important cultural property of Japan. They are maintained by local craftsmen and paraded during these festivals. It is possible to see some floats exhibited at the museum Yaitaikaikan ? ? ?? in Takayama.
Less known but just as beautiful and unique as Takayama Matsuri is the Furukawa Matsuri held on the 19th and the 20th of April in Hida Furukawa. 20 minutes away from Takayama by train, you will see 9 different floats built hundreds of years ago and maintained by the local communities. The night of the 19th, you will have the chance to experience the Okoshi Daiko????, a parade of drums involving hundreds of half-naked men from these communities.
Hida Furukawa is a peaceful village, with a beautiful preserved building district where you can sometimes smell the aroma of sake coming from the breweries. You will also meet really nice local people wishing to share their culture.
In Hida Furukawa you can also have the “Satoyama Experience”. Satoyama ??is the Japanese country side, the area between the mountains and the farmland. Etymologically, it is the combination of two ideograms, ???sato, which means an inhabited place, one’s origins, and ???yama, which means mountain. In order to respect the balance between Nature and Men, the communities make sure that the satoyama is preserved by different actions and projects like renovating traditional folk houses or old farms. Through guided walking and bike tours in which you will meet with locals and learn more about Hida culture and history. Satoyama Experience allows you live the Japanese countryside and understand the true meaning of “satoyama”.
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