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Nozawa Fire Festival, Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Matsuri

Worshiped at an intersection, a “dosojin” is a village guardian deity to protect a village from evil and to promote descendants’ prosperity. There had been two dosojin spots for fire festivals along the road in Nozawa Onsen Village, but they were moved and united at a remote place in 1912 to prevent fires during the festival.

The blessings of dosojin vary according to places, and the Nozawa Onsen Village dosojin are worshiped mainly for protecting one from evil and for finding a good marriage match. It is customary for men at certain ages of ‘yaku’, or bad luck, to join the festival.

On January 13 every year, the sacred trees are brought to build the shrine on January 14. Around 20:00 on January 15, the fight begins between two teams, one to defend the shrine which has a height of 20 meters and the other to try to set fire to it. The fierce battle continues for about 90 minutes, before it is ended with a hand-clapping ceremony and the shrine is set on fire. Spectators and participants alike watching the fiercely burning wild fire until the festival finishes at 23:00. Participants are strictly limited to men who are of unlucky ages, and if any others get caught up in the excitement and try to participate, they are dropped into the river to cool their heads down.

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Most dosojin throughout Nozawa Onsen Village are wooden and pairs of male and female deities.

Most dosojin throughout Nozawa Onsen Village are wooden and pairs of male and female deities.It is believed they bring prosperity to descendants, standing as gods of marriage and fertility. This belief springs from a story that once an ugly man and woman married and had a baby boy.

The burned down shrine remains on fire until the next morning. Eating mochi rice cakes grilled on the remaining fire is said to keep you healthy and prevent colds throughout the year. What makes Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival so unique is that the fight risks lives of the people who join the festival as well as spectators. Even if you do not take part in the festival, you should be prepared for the risks just in being.

The fire festival is about the fierce battle between the villagers who try to set fire to the shrine and the men at ‘yaku’ ages who protect it from the fire. Both offenders and defenders knock each other down with fired torches and pine sticks. A serious battle for life unfolds in front of the spectators in showers of falling fire sparks. This is a traditional event that everyone born in this village passes through. The fateful ceremony creates unity and tightens the bonds of the old and the young. Participation in the event is confers recognition as a man who can protect the village. Village men whose ages are the inauspicious years of 42 and 25 take the festival’s main role. The temporary shrine only for the festival is built over two days before the event. Men aged 42 stand on the top of the shrine while the 25-year olds at the bottom strongly guard it as firemen, trying to prevent the attacks of other villagers.

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Requests of foreign tourists

■Please remember that the treat of sake in Japan, called ‘furumai-zake,’ is something special for celebration; this is not for getting drunk, but for celebrating.

■Bringing alcohol into the festival site is prohibited. This is a place for the festivity, not for drinking.

■Use only designated areas as a toilet.

■This is a religious rite, and participation is strictly limited to the villagers. You must follow manners as an observer, and are NOT allowed to join the battle.

■This is not a place to pick up girls. Please remember that what is unfolding in front of you is a religious ritual.

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