Fire Festival!!!

Dosojin Himatsuri – January 15, 2013

The Fire Festival is a crazy event that could not happen anywhere but Japan. Steeped in tradition, soaked in Sake, and a great night all around.

The Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival takes place on January 15 every year. If you are planning a trip for 2013 check out our accommodation page and Book ASAP as rooms always fill up quick!

Building the Shrine

The Fire Festival starts on the 13th of January, when 25 year old and 42 year old villagers assemble on the slopes of Hikage and choose a few sturdy trunks to chop down, which will eventually form the main support struts of the Fire Festival Shrine. The trunks are then dragged through the village, with draggers stopping along the way to receive liquid refreshments in the form of sake. Sake is distributed by “Sake Touban” who will gladly offer “miki” (ceremonial sake) to any onlookers.

The Ritual

25 and 42 are considered “Yakudoshi” (unlucky years) in Shinto tradition, and the bravery shown by these groups will help them overcome bad fortune for the year ahead. Once the shrine is built the 42 year olds climb up, where they sing songs and drink copious amounts of sake to rev up the crowd (and undoubtedly themselves). The fire for the festival is lit at a seperate location in an ancient ceremony (which unsurprisingly involves singing and copious amounts of Sake) and then brought to fire festival grounds. A bonfire is lit and the 42 year olds atop the shrine start chanting “Hi mottekoi!” (Bring on the fire), and throwing down bundles of sticks which will be used in the attacks.

Embers and soot fly throughout the night at the festival so don’t wear your best goretex jacket out. Cold sake offered freely by the sake toubans has been known to get the better of many a spectator so take it easy and look after your mates!

The Action

Fire attacks begin ceremonially with the youngest villagers (starting with babies being carried on their grandparents backs), and gradually build in energy as boys and then teenagers stage attacks. It really gets heated when the adults are attacking. Attackers charge and thrash with flaming bundles of sticks as defenders use pine branches, fists and feet to fend them off and protect the shrine. As the attacks go on the bonfire is slowly brought closer to the shrine.

The Grand Finale

Once the defenders have proven their bravery the shrine is deserted and set alight.