Gokayama and Hida – a surprise festival

We left Kanazawa and headed towards Gokayama, looking forward to visiting another Unesco World Heritage site – thatched houses that are unique to Japan and we can now recognise in other towns where the thatch has been covered by modern materials. It must be good insulation. The houses were the homes and workplaces for families engaged in silk farming and have withstood the snow of many heavy winters. No nails were used to build them, just ropes hold the beams together. A couple of families still live in the village and the farmer was out ploughing his rice fields. We had the place to ourselves and enjoyed coffee before wandering round. The large pond in the centre of the village was full of tadpoles and frogs croaked and then fell silent as we approached.

We had planned to have lunch at Hida before heading onto Kazeya where we were booked into an onsen hotel. It turned out to be fairly disappointing and had we known that it was festival time in Hida, we would have stayed there. But it was wonderful to stumble across another festival, with traditional floats and local families and neighbourhoods all coming together to celebrate their traditional culture. As we stood looking at one float, still in its garage, they invited us to walk round it to admire the intricate wooden carvings and we saw the huge stockpile of sake bottles waiting to be consumed.

We followed this float and others as they made their way round the town. One gentleman explained the festival to us and insisted that we tried the sake too. The bridge across the river was the site of the lion dance. When it finished, they went off beating the drum and the lions scaring small children and knocking doors to demand money – a bit like Halloween guisers.

It was lovely to see the next generation learning the ropes and helping to pull the floats and children enjoying themselves. In the early afternoon six of the floats tried to fit on the red bridge at the river. We waited for that and then had to head off, but not before a couple of schoolgirls, egged on by their teacher practised their English on us and read a script explaining the festival. The evening celebrations sounded fun – lots of men in loincloths in teams fighting to be nearest to a large drum and of course, lots of sake being drunk!

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