Takayama Local Customs

  • Red-faced macaque, Kamikochi
    Red-faced macaque, Kamikochi
    by toonsarah
  • Local Customs
    by toonsarah
  • Tatami in the making
    Tatami in the making
    by toonsarah

Most Recent Local Customs in Takayama

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    Sarubobo

    by toonsarah Written Dec 31, 2013

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    I found these red-headed faceless figures a little spooky but they are very popular and you will see them all over Takayama, used as symbols in promoting shops etc. and available to buy as a souvenir in all sorts of forms, from little charms and key rings to large stuffed toys. Traditionally, these sarubobos were made by mothers and grandmothers to be given to their daughters as an amulet to ensure a good marriage, good children and happiness. The name means “baby monkey” and it is believed that as monkeys have quick childbirths, so will the possessor of this charm. Nowadays they are regarded as more general good luck amulets that anyone can carry.

    The face is red like that of the Japanese monkeys (see photo three which I took a few days later in Kamikochi National Park) but it is less clear why it is traditionally without features. One theory is that they were originally made from leftover cloth and by relatives, so they were kept simple. Another is that the absence of a face allows the owner to imagine it – thus when the owner is sad, they can imagine their sarubobo to be sad too, when they are happy it is happy, and so on.

    Today you may see sarubobos with different coloured faces as their very traditional use has widened. Each colour has its own meaning:
    The red sarubobo is for luck in marriage, fertility and childbirth.
    The blue sarubobo is for luck in work
    The pink sarubobo is for luck in love
    The green sarubobo is for luck in health
    The yellow sarubobo is for luck in money
    The black sarubobo is to remove bad luck

    As we continued to walk Takayama’s streets we noticed lots of cute dogs

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    A baby's blessing

    by toonsarah Written Dec 31, 2013

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    Family group
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    When we arrived in front of the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine we found the steps up to the shrine blocked by a family posing for formal photos. We stopped to see what was happening and a passing guide escorting another couple around (local but with excellent English) kindly stopped to explain to us that it is traditional here in Takayama to bring your newborn baby to this shrine to be blessed around the 40th day after the birth. This first visit to a shrine is known as Hatsu Miyamairi or more commonly Omiyamairi. In the past, this would be scheduled very precisely, and according to the baby’s gender, e.g. 31 days old for a baby boy and 32 days for a baby girl. The exact timing depends on the region – here in Takayama our informant indicated that 40 days is normal. But nowadays it has become a common practice for babies (regardless of gender) to have their Omiyamairi at any time between 30 to 100 days after their birth. Many parents choose to go after their baby’s first month health check, and it may also depend on the availability of a priest and of family members.

    Traditionally, the mother and grandmother wear formal kimono, and their babies will be adorned in colourful robes or wraps. But the family we saw were in smart Western-style clothing. The purpose of the Omiyamairi is to show gratitude to the gods for the safe delivery and ask the local deity of the shrine to bless the baby, purify him/her and to accept the baby as part of the local worshipping community. The baby is introduced to the local deity by calling out his/her name and birth information, and the god is asked to purify, protect and bless the baby with happiness and health. No photos can be taken during the ceremony itself, but afterwards of course the proud new parents like to pose before the shrine with their offspring and other relatives, just as we saw here. To me it was very reminiscent of wedding photography, with the photographer arranging different combinations of the part in turn – the parents and baby, all the women, the whole group and so on. It was a lovely thing to witness and added to our appreciation of the shrine and its pretty setting.

    After taking our own photos and exploring the various buildings here we were in need of refreshment, which we found in a lovely little café nearby.

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    A tatami mat workshop

    by toonsarah Written Dec 31, 2013

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    Tatami in the making
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    We saw a couple of these traditional tatami mat workshops on our travels in Japan (the other one was in Nikko), but unfortunately on neither occasion did we manage to catch anyone actually making the mats. Nevertheless it was interesting to see the weaving frames and tools used for this process.

    Tatami is the traditional Japanese floor covering and its distinctive appearance, texture and scent will linger long in my memories of the country. The scent in particular, because when you sleep in a tatami room you do so on futons, lying very close to the floor and fall asleep with that straw smell as a perfumed “lullaby”.

    Tatami is still used a lot in Japan, and not only in traditional houses, as many modern homes and flats have at least one tatami-floored traditional room. The tatami mats are always made in standard sizes, which varies a bit with the region, but is usually around 1.80 metres long by 90 centimetres wide, and always with a ratio of 2:1. Because of this, rooms in Japan are also made in standard sizes and are measured and described as multiples of tatami mats (for example, a tea room is often 4½ mats and a shop usually 5½ mats).

    Traditional tatami mats are made with an inner core of rice straw and a covering of woven rushes, bound at the edges with decorative cloth or brocade. The covering is known as the tatami omote; it is made of a soft reed and each mat needs about 4,000 to 5,000 rushes, which are woven together with hemp or cotton string. To make the tatami goto, as the straw core is known, 40 centimetres of straw is crushed to just five centimetres deep. Finally the edging or tatami beri is bound over the long edges.

    There are some rules (this is Japan, there are always rules!) about the most auspicious arrangement for tatami mats. You will never see a room with tatami arranged in a simple grid pattern; the borders should not create a cross shape, because that would mean that you had joined four mats in that spot and the number four is considered unlucky in Japan because it is pronounced like the word used for death: shi. It is also considered unlucky to step on the cloth-bound border of a tatami mat, although avoiding them is easier said than done and I’m sure I stepped on many during our stay!

    After visiting the old houses and strolling the nearby streets some more, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner.

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    Sarubobo Dolls

    by arianne_1504 Written Jun 27, 2010
    Giant Sarubobo in Takayama

    You will see the faceless Sarubobo Doll EVERYWHERE in Takayama, as it is a special product of Hida Takayama. These dolls are a kind of charm, which Grandmothers make for grandchildren as dolls, and for daughters for good marriage, good child, and being a well-rounded couple.

    We noticed a lot of different types of Sarubobo dolls in Takayama - all sorts of colours, styles and shapes. Apparently the colours mean different things:
    * Blue Sarubobo for luck in study and work;
    * Pink Sarubobo for luck in love;
    * Green Sarubobo for luck in health; and
    * Yellow Sarubobo for luck in money.

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    RICE FIELDS

    by Pixiekatten Updated Feb 10, 2007

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    Before coming to Takayama all ricefields I had seen had been while swooshing past them seated on Shinkansen. But here I got the chance to have a closer look while walking out of town on my way to the Mahikari World Shrine and Hida Folk Village.
    The afternoon sun was reflected in the water. The mountains rose in the background, still covered in snow. A beautiful scenery indeed.

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    SARUBOBO

    by Pixiekatten Updated Feb 7, 2007

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    Sarubobo is a little faceless monkey made of fabric in various colours, although red is the most common one. It is a good luck charm given to children. In Takayama it is a custom that Grandmother's make Sarubobo for their grandchildren to keep them safe and healthy.

    These little monkeys can be found in almost every shop in the village. They also come in Hello Kitty versions and other famous manga characters.

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    Riverside Market Stalls

    by TexasDave Written Mar 22, 2006

    In the mornings older women set up stalls along the riverbank selling local products. I'd say it's more of a curiosity for tourists to walk by and look at, rather than an opportunity to buy anything- unless you want to buy locally harvested mushrooms, scallions, etc.

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    Local Cuisine (Hida Soba)

    by tigerjapan Written Jan 28, 2005

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    Hida Soba

    Takayama¡¯s cuisine is very different from that of Tokyo, Kyoto and southern Japan. Takayama, being a land-locked area, had to depend on the mountains and rivers for its raw materials. Due to this reason the local people created a number of unique dishes ¨C unique in the ingredients they use and in the flavours of the dishes.

    Like many of Japan's mountainous districts, Takayama also has its own¡¡variety of "soba". Soba are noodles made from buckwheat. These noodles are frequently hand -made at the restaurant where you eat them and served in various ways, hot or cold. Soba is often eaten as a light lunch or as part of an evening meal.

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    Local Cuisine

    by tigerjapan Written Jan 28, 2005

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    Takayama’s cuisine is very different from that of Tokyo, Kyoto and southern Japan. Takayama, being a land-locked area, had to depend on the mountains and rivers for its raw materials. Due to this reason the local people created a number of unique dishes – unique in the ingredients they use and in the flavours of the dishes.

    One typical local cuisine of Takayama is “SAN-SAI”. San-sai means mountain vegetables such as edible ferns and other wild plants. Said to be both nourishing and delicious these mountains vegetables often have distinctive flavours. San-sai is said to be most delicious when cooked with the rich local miso. This miso is another local dish not to be missed.

    “San-sai ryori” is a meal consisting of the mountain vegetables in miso with river fish grilled with salt or soy sauce. It’s a healthy meal and a typical meal of this region.

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    Hoba Miso (local cuisine) & use of Miso in Hida

    by tigerjapan Written Jan 28, 2005

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    Hoba Miso

    Since Takayama is far from the ocean in mountain country, and with transportation difficult in earlier times, obtaining goods from the ocean, in particular, was difficult. On top of that, because of the severity of the hard conditions of the long winter, the eating habits of the people of Hida were “Miso with nothing, only pickled vegetables.” Therefore, housewives became especially skilled in using miso. Hida miso, developed under these circumstances is not only used as a condiment, but also as a side dish as an important source of protein; it is food with the unique flavor of Hida.

    Hoba Miso is a famous dish from this region of Japan. Magnolia leaves roast over a charcaol brazier. These leaves are topped with miso, leeks ans shiitake mushrooms. Hida beef is also sometimes added. It cooks away and is a popular snack alongside sake or as a side dish.

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    Long Arm Man & Long Leg Man

    by arianne_1504 Written Jun 27, 2010
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    The Miyagawa bridge is home to two strange statues - the long arm "Tenaga zuchi zou" and long leg man "Ashinaga zuchi zou".

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Takayama Local Customs

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