Nozawa Onsen’s fire festival is one of Japan’s most famous events - a magical time to be in town. The festival is in honour of Nozawa’s ‘kami’ or protector god, and aims to bring good fortune in the form of fertility and natural abundance – including generous snowfall! For two days from January 13th, villagers build a shrine from local wood. Festival evening (the 15th) sees men of the ‘unlucky ages’, 25 and 42, attempting to defend the shrine against the blazing torches of locals tanked up on saké and thus bring good luck to the village. After a lively battle usually lasting over an hour, the shrine finally succumbs to the fire and everyone celebrates - the locals carry around trays of saké to offer all onlookers. It’s a fascinating - and rather raucous - insight into local culture.
If you are staying in Nozawa Onsen, then it's right on your doorstep. Get involved. If you are staying in Hakuba, then it's worth the excursion.