Are you up for something fun, something exhilarating, something completely different from your average snow holiday? Nozawa Fire Festival may be just what you are after.
If you’re looking for a beautiful and authentic Japan ski resort, Nozawa Onsen is a perfect option and the very best time to visit is during the Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival, (Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Matsuri). Bringing fire, snow and a battle together in one of Japan’s best fire festivals. This cultural event is fun, exciting and crazy all at the same time and is really something that must be seen to be believed.
Dating back to 1863, the festival is held on 15 January every year to pray for an abundant harvest, health, good fortune for the coming year plus a good ski season. The festival is all about the 25 and 42 year old men from the village, the ‘unlucky’ ages. These men are required to build a shrine reaching up to 18 metres in height. Regrettably for these 100 or so men, the shaden (shrine) gets burnt down only 2 days later on 15Jan. Once constructed, the shaden is blessed before the ‘fire-setting battle’ which ends up with the setting fire of the shaden with blazing torches by the offensive team and the offering of torches to the God, making the festival truly spectacular and exhilarating.
Along with the shaden there are an average of five toro (dedicatory lantern poles) erected every year. These poles are made by a family in the village to celebrate the birth of the first son. The toro are offered to the Gods in a prayer for health and good fortune.
The whole festival can take up to four hours from the beginning to the end. Some tourists tend to just stay for the ‘exciting’ battle between the guards and the torch bearing villagers. Add liberal servings of saké to all of the above and you’re sure to go home buzzing after seeing quite a spectacle – and maybe a bit scorched from the flames (don’t wear your new down jacket).
If are able to visit Nozawa Onsen during this cultural festival please remember it does hold deep meaning for the local community and families. Use respectful language, do not push and shove and try not to block others views where possible. Also, despite all temptation, do not take ‘souvenirs’ of the evening. You may be lifting something that has deep meaning to a local family or the community.