Inuyama Festival Near Nagoya

ByBert Wishart
Mar 21, 2023

Inuyama Festival Near Nagoya

Not content with being the site of Japan’s oldest (arguably most elegant) castle or being a staggeringly beautiful city, Inuyama hosts a particularly spellbinding festival every spring.

The Inuyama festival is held annually on the first weekend of April and was begun under the orders of Owari clan retainer Hayatonosho Masatora Naruse in 1635 as a festival for Haritsuna Shrine, where the kami (god) of the city is enshrined. The festival begins in the early morning as thirteen festival floats are dragged from various points in town until they commune in the shrine’s yard.

Inuyama Festival Floats

Inuyama Sakura floatWhile festival floats are not uncommon in Japan (called variously dashi, yatoi, hoko, danjiri, and here, yama), it is the sight of these three-tiered wooden structures set on the backdrop of Inuyama’s ancient streets as the cherry blossom flutters through the air that makes it an event so celebrated that it was designated as a National Important Intangible Folk cultural asset. Three stories tall, these magnificent floats are ornately carved and decorated, each in a different style.

The yama are fixed axle vehicles. Given their immense weight, pulling them along the city streets is difficult, but how they handle corners makes for the most exciting viewing. The men representing their area in the parade must put all their energies into lifting and twisting these gargantuan caravans. Most of the crowds will cheer the men on, though sensitive engineers may weep.

Inuyama’s Karakuri Robots

inuyama_karakuri_robotNot content with being gorgeous and cumbersome, they are also amazingly entertaining, for sitting atop each float is a karakuri puppet. Karakuri is a traditional Japanese mechanized puppet or automaton, essentially Edo-era robots.

Developed in the 17th century, karakuri are powered by a whalebone spring and controlled by a series of wheels, cams, and levers. They were often used at festivals to perform reenactments of popular myths. Many of the karakuri at the Inuyama festival are unique to the area and, at various stages in the day, will delight festivalgoers with performances of Japanese legends dedicated to Haritsuna Shrine’s kami.

Love is in the Air

The shrine at the foot of the hill on which the castle sits is Sanko Inari, a temple where those unlucky in love may come to scribble the name of an unrequited love on a heart-shaped ’ema’ and pray for a match. Opposite the shrine is Haritsuna Shrine, which in 1635 was the starting place of the first Inuyama Festival.

Fight the crowds and climb the hill to the castle if you can. There will be huge queues waiting to get in, but if you have enough patience to get to the top, you will be afforded incredible views of the festival below and the cherry blossoms in the hills surrounding you.

Inuyama’s Festival of Light

Inuyama LightsFor many, the day’s highlight will come as dusk settles and 365 lanterns are affixed to each of the 13 floats. As each candle is lit (no electricity is used), the sun sets, bathing the town in a warm orange glow, intensified by the pink cherry blossom petals.

Once lit, the floats return to their starting points in their local communities, again winding through the beautiful Inuyama streets of shops, food stalls, and Edo-style frontages.


Exploring Inuyama

As the festival goes on all day, there should be plenty of time for you to explore the other delights of Inuyama. Not to be missed is the old town, Jokomachi. Following the path from the castle, you will come across a delightful area of Edo eras buildings selling numerous souvenirs, regional wares, handicrafts, and locally produced clothing.

Furthermore, should you tire of the festival food available at the yatai [stalls] (about which you can learn here), there are a number of restaurants. These will likely be busy, but if you can wait amongst the crowds, you should try out some of Inuyama’s local cuisine, particularly the gohei mochi, a grilled rice cake slathered in red miso, or the tofu version, dengaku.

If you want to explore further afield, check out our guide to Inuyama here.

Inuyama Festival

Where: Haritsuna Shrine, 65-1 Kitakoken, Inuyama, Inuyama 484-0081 (google map)
When: 7:50-21:45, April 1 and 2, 2023
Public Transport: Inuyama-Yuen and Inuyama Station on the Meitetsu Inuyama Line are a 15 and 11-minute walk to Haritsuna Shrine, respectively.

For a complete listing of the day’s events, check out the ever-excellent

Image: “Inuyama Festival” by Kazutaka. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: “Inuyama” by FullyFunctnlPhil (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: “Inuyama” byAlexander Gubin (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: “Happy Valentine’s Day” by Al Case (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Image: by Bong Grit via (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified

About the author

Bert Wishart editor

Novelist, copywriter and graduate from the most prestigious university in Sunderland, Bert whiles away his precious time on this Earth by writing about popular culture, travel, food and pretty much anything else that is likely to win him the Pulitzer he desperately craves.

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