‘Tis a bit late, but Nagano is home to a few wintertime fire-related festivals and I thought our Ambassador blog would be re-miss not to mention them. The most famous one is Nozawa Onsen’s Dosojin Festival. I was fortunate to be able to go last year. If you are in Nagano on the 15th of January, you MUST go see this festival, one of the top 3 fire festivals in all of Japan.
Another fire-related event is called “Don-do Yaki” and is held in various communities throughout the prefecture, usually on or around the Coming of Age Day holiday weekend. The event is called different things and takes different shapes depending on the particular area. Here in Kamiyamada Onsen, each neighborhood collects the dharma dolls from the previous year as well as the New Years decorations. The mish-mash is taken down to a grassy stretch along the banks of the Chikuma River and piled up into a massive mound. Then around 3pm, everyone gathers and the mound is lit with fire and voila! a huge bonfire.
These don-don yaki fires (“don-do” refers to the popping sound of the burning bamboo) don’t compare with Nozawa Onsen’s Dosojin fire festival, but it’s pretty spectacular nonetheless, especially with the dramatic backdrop of the Chikuma River and the surrounding mountains.
Then after the fire dies down, everyone digs out some of the hot coals, and commences to cook mochi sticky rice and heat up sake’. One guy every year grills river fish over the coals. In the past, I always enjoyed getting treated to some hot mochi, a sip (or two!) of sake, and the hot-off-the-grill fish, in what had seemed like an impromptu little festival.
So if you’re in Nagano during the mid-January holiday weekend, now you’ll know what all the bonfires are about!