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Onbashira Matsuri: An exploration of the thrilling ceremony involving the transportation of massive tree trunks in the mountains of Nagano

The History and Tradition of Onbashira Matsuri

Onbashira Matsuri, which translates to “The Festival of the Sacred Pillars”, is a traditional festival that takes place in the Suwa region of Nagano, Japan every six years. The festival involves the transportation of massive tree trunks known as “Onbashira” from the forests of the mountains to the Suwa Grand Shrine. These logs, some of which are over 20 meters long and weigh more than 10 tons, are carried down the mountains on steep slopes, across raging rivers and through treacherous terrain. The journey takes several weeks and involves thousands of participants who display incredible courage and skill throughout the ceremony.

The First Stage: Cutting the Trees

Onbashira Matsuri has been celebrated for over 1200 years and is believed to have originated in the 8th century. The first stage of the festival involves cutting down the tree trunks from the mountainside. This is a difficult and dangerous task that requires skilled lumberjacks with special training and experience to ensure that the trees are felled safely. Once the trees are cut, they are brought down to the shrine where they will be blessed and prepared for transportation.

The Second Stage: Sacred Rituals

Before the transportation of the Onbashira begins, several sacred rituals are performed to bless the logs and the participants who will carry them. This involves prayers and offerings to the gods, as well as the purifying of the Onbashira in a nearby river.

The Third Stage: The Transportation of the Onbashira

The third and most exciting stage of the festival is the transportation of the Onbashira. The logs are pulled, dragged and rolled down the mountainside by teams of participants who use ropes and wooden poles to control their descent. Once the logs reach the bottom of the mountain they are loaded onto massive sledges known as “Daha” which are then dragged to the Suwa Grand Shrine, a distance of around 10 kilometers. The journey is filled with excitement and danger as the logs are transported over steep hills, across narrow bridges and through deep rivers.

The Fourth Stage: Raising the Onbashira

The final stage of the festival involves the raising of the Onbashira at the Suwa Grand Shrine. This is a symbolic act that signifies the completion of the journey and the arrival of the sacred logs at the shrine. The logs are hoisted into position using ropes and pulleys and are then secured in place. This act requires great skill and precision and is watched by thousands of spectators who have come to witness the festival. In conclusion, Onbashira Matsuri is a unique and thrilling festival that celebrates the traditions and history of the Suwa region of Nagano. The transportation of the massive tree trunks is not only a physical feat but also a symbolic representation of the relationship between man and nature.
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