Jan 15, 2023 / 6:00 PM11:30 PM

The Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival (野沢温泉道祖神火祭り, Nozawa Onsen Dōsojin Hi-matsuri) is held on 15 January every year and is one of Japan’s three major fire festivals. The festival is in fact a playful enactment: the 42-year-old and 25-year old males of the village defending a makeshift 7-meter high shrine against the onslaught of the rest of the villagers who rush towards the structure with flaming torches. Trees are cut down during October and over 100 villagers gather to build the structure the day before the festival, following which a ceremony is performed to enshrine a dosojin (道祖神): a deity of roads and borders that is known to protect travellers. The 42-year-olds defend the upper part of the structure while the 25-year-olds defend the lower part. These age groups are chosen because they are said to be “unlucky” (yakudōshi) ages in Japanese superstition. The “attack” begins at 8:30pm and can last for three hours before the shrine is burnt to the ground.

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