- Suwa City / Telegraph / CNN Travel
- Festival / Matsuri / Nagano / Onbashira / Traditional
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When delving into the local festivals of Japanese towns some strange traditions can be found, but none are considered as deadly as this one. Japan’s most notorious festival, Onbashira Matsuri in Nagano involves an extreme method of renewing the pillars at the town’s shrine.
The rituals surrounding the pillar renewal mean its not uncommon for there to be at least one death during the festival, while serious injuries are a given. The Onbashira festival only takes place every six years, in the Year of the Tiger and the Year of the Monkey as according to the Chinese zodiac.
Sixteen massive fir trees are selected and cut down to be dragged to the shrine. The route involves a steep slope at which point the trees are simply thrown off the edge to crash down to the bottom. In a tradition which guarantees at least some serious injuries, the men taking part in the festival will attempt to ride the tree trunks hurtling down the rocky mountainside.
A month later the wooden posts will be erected at the shrine in another dangerous feat, men cling to the wood as it is raised by ropes. The festival is over 1200 years old and still fiercely carried out by the town's inhabitants.
In 2016 a man died after losing his grip on the ropes and falling onto machinery while raising the pillars. The previous festival in 2010 claimed two lives, both men fell from the pillars that were being raised after a guide wire snapped. In 2004 two men were drowned when dragging the tree trunks through a fast-flowing river. The historic list of fatalities even include the town's own mayor in 1944.
Despite the risks (or perhaps because of it) the festival remains a massive draw for tourists. Outsiders can’t join in the activities but crowds still gather to see the incredible sights and soak in the intense atmosphere of such a heated festival.