Nozawa Onsen hosted the annual Fire Festival last night as thousands of people gathered to enjoy one of the most unique spectacles in all the world! The famous festival celebrates community, honors the gods, and entreats them to provide mothers and their newborns with health and happiness and to supply the village with heaps of snow and a bountiful harvest in 2019. In order to honor the gods, the villagers build a 3 story wooden structure, and the 25 year men in the village are tasked with defending it, while the 45 year old torch wielding men work to burn it down.
The main spectacle involved over a small group of 25 year old villagers guarding the base of the three story structure, and another group of very inebriated 25 year old men sitting atop the structure drinking and cheering on their teammates. Directly across from the structure, the villagers lit a massive bonfire which was flanked on both sides by excited visitors. The villagers lit their bamboo bundles on fire and walked in groups as large as 10 to the structure to do battle with the guards. The men at the base formed human shields and used tree branches to extinguish the flames. The entire battle lasted over 2 hours and became very intense and violent at times with men shoving, jumping, slapping, and hitting each other with lit bundles of bamboo.
The Nozawa Onses is an amazing cultural experience and something that you should plan your next trip to Hakuba around. It occurs every year in mid January and will be among the highlights of your Hakuba Holiday.