OK, any of you who know us have likely heard us speak of some of the crazy (in our opinion) festivals they hold in Japan. I had the opportunity last month to see one their "finest" up-close. The winter season fire festivals are a big deal and one of the top 3 in all Japan happens to be held each January 15th in the small village where I teach once a week at the elementary school. The teachers and staff assured me it was something I shouldn't miss, so with John's blessing, I stayed in Nozawa that day after classes to join them in the festivities.
Let me add that it doesn't begin until around 8pm... I normally finish up about 4pm and then make the 1 1/2 hour drive home ... and they said it would end between 11 and midnite! And I would still have to drive home!! But hey, I was there and it seemed like I should grasp the opportunity! Oh yes! Nozawa is a top ski/snow board destination, with 13 free! onsens (hot spring baths), multiple slopes and LOTS of snow!! And on this particular day it had been snowing since long before I arrived there in the morning and never let up! I went out at 4 to move my car into the teachers garage before the festival and literally had to unbury it from the 2+ feet of snow on and around it! This on top of the abundance there from previous days.
So after the teachers finished up their stuff I went to eat dinner with two of the ladies at a small cafe. The teacher's car had been in the garage all day so was snow-free. We made the short drive to the cafe, enjoyed a tasty meal and nice conversation (relative to the fact that their English and my Japanese are on similar levels - not too great!) and about an hour later set to head back to the garage found her car first needed to be freed from the half foot of snow that had fallen in that short span!! We made our way back to the school to park and they suggested a dip in the onsen to warm up before heading out in to the freezing night...to my great surprise the onsen was in the school basement!! Cool! or actually HOT!!
Then, it was off to the festivities! The location was less than a 10 minute walk from the school so that was convenient. It was amazing to see SO MANY people in this small village! All bundled up and ready to brave the freezing temps and steady snowfall to watch the fire fight! I'd planned to take our good camera in hopes of some good pics but decided against it with the heavy snowfall - good move! Having no extra baggage was the right choice in the sardine packed crowd - not to mention that the snow wouldn't have been good for it's lifespan. I did, however, have the ever-present cell phone ;-) Got a few pics but not so great. Then I shot some video - not great either but the best I could manage in the crowd...the weather.. you get the idea.
So there's 1:59 if you care to take a peek. All that stuff falling is lots & lots & more snow! You can see it piling up on the heads and shoulders of the onlookers.
I couldn't really explain it all to you and make much sense so below is the town info on what the festival is. I can tell you it's a huge shrine they build, the poles decorated for the years' new first sons are elaborate - all to be burned up... There's gallons of sake consumed which explains in part why the folks fighting each other with fire aren't fazed by their singed flesh and soot covered bodies - at least not til the next day.
It was definitely an experience!