Nozawa Onsen 'Dosojin' (Fire Festival)
**Please note, due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, it has not yet been confirmed whether the Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival will go ahead in January 2023. We will update this page once an announcement is made**
Held on January 15th each year, the ‘Nozawa onsen Dosojin’ (野沢温泉道祖神火祭り) is one of Japan’s great fire festivals, attracting thousands of visitors to one of the country’s most popular ski resorts to witness in the midst of the snow season. The festival includes preparatory events on both January 13th and 14th with the main action taking place on the night of the 15th, when the town and audience parade through the village to the main festival area where a wooden shrine is set to be attacked with fire by the young men of Nozawa while simultaneously defended by older ones.
Anyone is welcome to watch the festival however participation is strictly limited to local residents. Great fun to witness, to truly enjoy the festival it’s worth understanding its history and purpose. Nozawa Onsen Dosojin stems from a mix of Shinto and folk beliefs and like many ‘matsuri’ (festivals) in Japan, is intended to dispel bad spirits and luck, bring good fortune and fertility to the village and strengthen the community. As you move around the village you will see many ‘dosojin’ outside homes and businesses. Called ‘Yacchimatahiko’ (the male figure) and ‘Yacchimahime’ (the female figure), this legendary couple were said to both be unattractive but even so, managed to find love with each other have a son. This archaic tale gave rise to the festival, which is intended to promote the vitality of the village and celebrates the birth of first sons to villagers in the past year.
While the festival takes place every year, local men aged 40 to 42 from a group called the ‘sanyakko’ and are responsible for the festival for a period of three years, before responsibility is handed over to the next sanyakko for the following three years. This process has seen the festival sustained for centuries and is considered a coming-of-age rite of passage for the men of Nozawa Onsen. These men prepare a new shrine each year, an impressive timber structure – standing 7 metres in height with saplings reaching even higher above – constructed from local beech trees and using traditional methods. Construction starts on the 14th and is completed on the afternoon of the 15th, with families who have been blessed with their first born son in the past year, erecting 9-metre tall ‘first lanterns’ next to the shrine.
Once preparations are complete, the main event starts around 7PM on the 15th, when local men aged 25 parade through the village with burning torches, enroute to attack the shrine. Around 8:30PM they will arrive at the shrine and attack with true vigour, as men aged 42 stand atop the shrine trying to defend it. Fueled by bravado, the energy of the crowd and a large amount of ‘sake’, the attack and defence is carried-out with true passion – an amazing and raucous sight to behold in the cold winter night. Eventually, the older men will concede and come down from the shrine, which is then set ablaze around 10PM, burning long into the night as locals throw fuel onto the fire, brought from their own homes. You’ll see all manner of things thrown into the fire, as they burn-away any bad luck and wish for a good year to come and continued success of the village.
1 Day Tour
|1-Day Tour From Hakuba & Nagano: Nozawa Fire Festival & Snow Monkeys|
|Time||11:30/13:00 – 23:45/01:00|
|Meeting Place||Hakuba |
What want to attend the festival on a guided tour? Our 1-Day Nozawa Fire Festival & Snow Monkeys Tour combine an afternoon visit to the nearby Jigokudani Monkey Park with an early dinner before heading to Nozawa for the festival. Please note, this is a family-friend tour and not a drinking tour designed for the comfort and enjoyment of guests of all ages. We’d love to have you join us!
Approximately 60-minutes drive from the Jigokudani Monkey Park
From Nagano Station, take the Hokuriku Shinkansen - 10 minutes - or local Iiyama Line - 45 minutes - to Iiyama Station. Once at Iiyama, use the Nozawa Onsen Liner express bus, local bus services or a taxi to reach Nozawa - between 20 to 40 minutes depending which option you choose