For 1200 years one of the most dangerous but exciting rituals “Onbashira” is performed after every 6 years in Japan. In this large groups of people ride tree logs weighing as much as 12 tonnes down the mountains at steep 27-degree slopes in a show of courage.
What is Onbashira & how it is performed?
The “Onbashira” is one of Japan’s oldest festivals which is celebrated for around 2 months in the Suwa area of Nagano, central Japan. It starts in April in spring, once every six years on the Year of the Tiger and the Year of the Monkey, and ends in May in the same year. For this event, the locals choose sixteen giant fir trees deep in the surrounding mountains to become the Onbashira pillars.
In April they haul them by the hand towards town in an event called “Yamadashi”. Then in May, they pull them the rest of the way and raise them in the corners of the Suwa shrines as sacred pillars (four pillars at each of the four shrines). This second event is called “Satobiki”. Only those tree logs that are more than 150 years old and 17 meters tall are considered worthy of the honor.
Why is Onbashira considered so dangerous
Onbashira’s reputation as one of Japan’s most risky rituals is due to the number of Onbashira deaths of locals. Mainly during the Yamadashi (coming out of the mountains) ritual when these large 10-12 tonnes tree logs are dragged. They are then ridden down the mountains by a group of people on steep slopes in a show of courage. They are then carried across the Miyagawa River where the logs are ceremoniously washed by the snow-fed waters.
Participants have also died while falling from atop the logs while they are paraded through the town or erected at the shrines in the later part of the rituals.
This whole series of rituals attracts a lot of tourists. Since the whole event is spread over a period of around 2 months, tourists from other countries get enough time to visit nearby areas. Thus they know better about the rich cultural heritage of Japan.
Onbashira 2022 partly canceled
The Yamadashi portion of Onbashira 2022 (bringing the pillars down the mountain) scheduled for April 2 – 4 and April 8 – 10 was officially canceled due to Japan’s Covid-19 situation. This includes the famous log riding event. For now, the second leg of the festival (Satobiki, bringing the pillars to the shrines in early May) is still on.
Featured Pic Credit: https://www.kuriositas.com/2016/05/onbashira-most-dangerous-festival-in.html