Suwa’s Onbashira Festival is almost here

March 16th, 2010 by
Category: Events

My wife bought me this cool tenugui (a kind of Japanese bandana) for my tenugui collection. You’re probably saying, “Hey, that’s a book, not a bandana.” It actually starts out as a book, about Suwa’s upcoming once-every-seven years Onbashira festival. But then it opens up into a tenugui. Pretty cool! But enough about my tenugui fetish. I wanted to pass on some info about Onbashira, one of Nagano’s grandest festivals.  The signature event is the sliding of massive logs down huge slopes, with the Matsuri men hanging on for dear life.

Is it a book?  Or a bandana?  The Onbashira tenugui!

Is it a book? Or a bandana? The Onbashira tenugui!

One of my Nagano Inbound Summit cohorts, Itoh-san from B&B Megu House Zuku in Suwa, sent some important information about the upcoming festival, so I’ll turn over the keyboard to her:

Suwa Grand Shrine’s festival is commonly called “Onbashira Festival”. Detailed information is available at the official website,

The dates of the festival are April 2, 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11, as well as May 2, 3, 4, 8, 9 and 10th.

There are volunteer guides for the festival, including native speakers of Chinese, Korean, French, Portuguese and Spanish. These guides also volunteer for tours of the Suwa area. Advanced reservations are required, through the Info Center at the above website or through Megu House Zuku.

Everyone from the elderly down to the children from all 6 towns and cities that make up the Suwa area participate in Onbashira in one way or another. That means event days will be very congested. There will be traffic restrictions in place, so you may end up walking quite a distance to festival sites. Several of the “pension” lodging in Hara Village offer festival and lodging packages.

Access by train is via JR Chuo Line, with Chino, Kami Suwa and Shimo Suwa being the main stations (approx 2 hours from Shinjuku). You can also take a highway bus on the Chuo Expressway from Tokyo. Keio Bus offers access in approx. 3 hours on their Suwa / Okaya line,

Pillars like these are used in the Onbashira Festival

Pillars like these are used in the Onbashira Festival

Suwa Grand Shrine’s biggest event is the spring Onbashira Festival, but all of the Suwa shrines in the area will also hold “komiyasai”, smaller festivals in the fall.  If you want to experience Onbashira up-close and personal, then these local fall festivals may be best.  The major Onbashira events in spring can be very crowded, while the “komiya” festivals often offer chances for the public to participate, too.

Finally, on April 29th, Suwa Lake will officially “open”. Numerous events will take place, including peddle boat races and a silk fair.

The foot bath along the shores of Suwa Lake

The foot bath along the shores of Suwa Lake

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