From The Editor
Three months after coming to Japan I moved from Kyoto to Nagano. I got off the train in Shimosuwa and peered up at an enormous hemp rope hanging from the roof, wondering what the significance was. Walking up to the house, where I would spend the next four years, I stopped to marvel at the beautiful, ancient shrine with towering warm, cedar trees encouraging me to stop in, and again, more of the massive rope. The next day I heard the word “onbashira” for the first time.
I had just moved within spitting distance of one of Japan’s great festivals: The Onbashira Matsuri, which comes around only once in seven years. A few months later hundred of thousands of people from all over Japan would walk by my home toward the site where sake-emboldened local men would ride huge logs down a dangerously steep hill. It is in logs’ nature to roll, and injuries, sometimes fatal, are common. Several months of events and celebrations in cities, towns and villages around Lake Suwa ensued. I learned the logs were actually pillars being transported form the forest to the grand shrines where the rope is used to raise them to where they will stand for another seven years until the next Onbashira Matsuri.
This is just one of literally thousands of traditional Japanese festivals. They come in all shapes and sizes, and are truly a community effort. During the mid-August O-bon celebrations there is a reverse migration as people leave the cities and head back to their hometowns. Summer is a great time to see a side of Japan that is often lost in the big cities where, more people than not, are from or from someplace else. Yet the paradoxical beauty of this country is that even in Tokyo there are local festivities where you can catch a glimpse of traditional Japan.