While we actually spend all of our time in the snow, and don`t see much more than only that from Japan, I sometimes feel like we`re lacking on experiencing the Japanese culture.
Not after January 15th.
It takes about one hundred villagers to build the shrine for the Nozawa Fire Festival. The shrine which they will try to burn down in full force on January 15th.
Nozawa Onsen is the town where the Fire Festival is happening. Every year on the exact same date. Nozawa is a beautiful ski town situated an hour or two away from Hakuba where we`re at (if you don`t decide to drive the summer road which takes an hour extra, been there done that).
The trees they use for the festival are cut down in October a brought to town two days before the festival takes place. Surely they`ll have some sort or more sorts of ceremonies around this shrine for the two days towards the festival, but on January 15th is the so called “fire-setting battle”. An offensive team which pretty much includes all man in town attack the shaden (also known as wood pile with 42-year-old man on top of it) with blazing torches. The shaden (and it`s man) gets protected by all of the 25-year-old man out of the same town. 42 and 25 are unlucky ages in Japan……
So, just to get you to picture this for yourself, man attack man and a big burnable woodpile with more man on it with fire, and try to light it all. Right.
The festival ends with a huge bonfire, the whole shrine will go down by the end of it, the 42-year-old man which were on top of the shaden actually have a hidden ladder on the back of the shaden where they escape on. Nobody actually gets burned, everybody involved does ends up with cuts, bruises and surely also burn marks. And everybody involved and all of the crowd gets slightly intoxicated by the liberal sake which gets poured all night. All I can advise you is to go, enjoy and not to wear your new down jacket.
“The festival originally began as an invocation for a good harvest health and good fortune in the coming year, but has expanded to include a good ski season as well”, AMEN!