Nozowa Onsen Fire Festival

Nozowa Onsen Fire Festival is wild. A bonfire has been erected, with 20 or so 42 year olds sitting on top and singing when I arrive at about 8pm. There’s a huge crowd, and some of them are big groups in recognisable uniforms, blind drunk on the free sake, stumbling all through the crowd.

The festival is held every year on 15th January, as a traditional celebration for for the health and growth of first born sons. The ages of 42 and 25 are considered ‘unlucky’, so it is the 42 year olds on top of the structure, and the 25 year olds tie themselves to the base, vowing to protect the structure from the villagers who rush at it with burning torches. I later realised it was the 42 year olds throwing the torches down from the top.

The 25 year olds are brutally beaten by the villagers. They all end up with cuts, bruises, burns and ash all over themselves. Their arms, heads and faces seem to cop the worst of it.

The 25 year olds succeeded, this time. They were able to withstand the beatings from the villagers and put out any spotfires that ignited. At the end of the battle, about 10pm, all the men from the top and bottom of the tower come down to the cheers and applause of the villagers. Then the tower is set alight in celebration.

I caught a bus to the fesitval from Hakuba (Happo), booked through the hostel I was staying at. It was about 2hrs each way. If you get an opportunity to stay in Nozowa for it, you can probably get two nights accomodation for the same cost as the return bus trip.


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