Playing with Fire!
Date: 2nd Saturday in October
Festivals in Japan can be raucous, wild affairs. And while some are meant to be enjoyed at arm’s length, others by their very nature have the power to draw in willing spectators and, sometimes, unsuspecting bystanders. The Asama Onsen Taimatsu Fire Festival is one of those events where you may very well find yourself being pulled into the action, one way or another. It’s good fun, and for some is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take part in an age-old Japanese tradition. Just take this piece of friendly advice: wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
Taimatsu is, like many festivals, a traditional ritual of thanks for a good harvest. In Asama Onsen Village they express their gratitude by fashioning massive pillars of straw. And they carrying them, pulling them, dragging them through the streets, uphill to Misha Harumiya Shrine. To make it interesting these huge bales of hay are lit on fire, turning them into giant torches that fill the air with smoke and spit burning bits of straw on the brave souls lugging them along.
Made and carried by groups of people from various Asama neighborhoods and onsen ryokan hotels, these two-meter cylindrical pyres number over twenty in total. And while it is not uncommon for groups to invite spectators to join them in their fiery, smoky task, most bystanders become part of the festivities without doing a thing. As the torches burn the straw at the top turns sooty, and the revelers carrying them are constantly reaching up with gloved hands to grab a handful of soot that they then wipe on the faces of their friends’ and anyone else within reach whether they like it or not. But hey, why not enjoy it? Besides, a sooty face is a sign of good health for the coming year.
So wear the oldest clothes you can find and head for the onsen village of Asama. If you really want to be prepared find an old towel to keep the flaming bits of straw off your head and a pair of cheap cotton gloves so you too can join in by wiping soot on the faces of your new friends, the good folks of the Asama Onsen Taimatsu Fire Festival.
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