The Fire Festival is one of the three most famous fire festivals in Japan. It is held on January 15th every year to pray for a plentiful harvest, health and good fortune in the coming year. The festival dates back to 1863, and though the location has changed, the festivities remain the same. During this festival the twenty-five and forty-two year old men from the village play a very important role. An old belief in Japan dictates that, for men, these years are unlucky ages. The twenty-five and the forty-two year old men in their unlucky ages construct the shaden (shrine) from beech wood that reaches a height of 18 meters. Every year it takes 100 villagers to build the shrine. The trees are cut down in October and brought down from the mountain, through the village, on January 13th. After the shaden has been constructed, the priest from Kosuge shrine performs a ceremony to endow it with a God.
Along with the shaden there are an average of five tôrô (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 tôrô are offered to the Gods in a prayer for health and good fortune. The festivities begin with the lighting of the fire by the twenty-five and fourty-two year old men. A small group of men carry a torch, which is lit by striking two stones together, from the Kôno residence to the festival grounds. The torch is used to start a bonfire from which the handmade torches used to attack the shrine are lit.
The festival centers around the shaden, where the fourty-two year olds sit on top and the twenty-five year olds stand guard at the base. Those who are 41 and 43 years old stand around the perimeter to protect the spectators. Torch bearing villagers of all ages attempt to break through the guards and light the shaden on fire. A dangerous and lively battle ensues. The defenders try to put out the fire by striking it with pine branches. The attack lasts for about one hour, after which the 42 year olds call an end to the ceremony and the shaden together with the tôrô are set on fire in an offering to the Gods. The entire festival can take up to four hours from the beginning to the end, but the main attraction is the battle between the guards and the torch bearing villagers.
Accommodation Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival
It is a very busy time in Nozawa Onsen in the village being the middle of school holidays and with the Festival on. So can sometimes be hard to find a room. Best to book early if want to be sure you can stay in Nozawa during the Fire Festival Period. Here is a link to lots of great options for Hotels, Apartments and Lodges in Nozawa https://www.nozawaholidays.com/accommodation/
Time Table for the Nozawa Fire Festival
19:00 Bring the fire to the fire festival arena.
19:30 Towers representing the new births arrive
20;00 Fireworks and the Dosojin drummers
20;30 Fire begins with the kids and dignitaries kicking it off
20;50 Adults attack the Tower with burning sticks
22;00 The Tower is set alight
Rules of the Dosojin Fire Festival
1. The Lighting of the fire and challenging is restricted to local Villagers only. No
one else to enter past the roped off area
2. Do not throw any objects. Respect people around you and no chanting please
3. Only participating members are allowed to climb the shrine (42 Year old
4. No drinking in the arena except for participants in the festival and please remove
all rubbish when you leave
5. Please take care of friends and have the name of your lodge or bus company on
you somewhere, can put in a lift pass arm band
6. We do not take responsibility for any damage or injury, take care of nylon
clothing as can burn. Beware of pick pockets too don’t bring valuables with you
7. This festival is an age old tradition that has been running for hundreds of years since 1863.
we ask you to please respect the local customs, have fun but behave and take care. Thank you for coming