Onbashira Festival


Held every 6 years in Nagano, Japan, the festival involves moving enormous logs over difficult terrain completely by hand with the help of thickly braided ropes and an occasional assist from gravity as the logs barrel down hills. The purpose is to symbolically renew a nearby shrine where each log is eventually placed to support the foundation of several shrine buildings. The event has reportedly continued uninterrupted for 1,200 years.

Onbashira is split into into two parts, Yamadashi and Satobiki, taking place in April and May respectively. Yamadashi involves cutting down and transporting the logs, each of which can weigh up to 10 tons. The logs are harnessed by ropes and pulled up to the tops of mountains by teams of men and then ridden down the other side. The event is exceedingly dangerous and comparable to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, where a brush with peril is seen as a form of honor. The second part, Satobiki, is a ceremonial raising event where participants again ride atop the logs and sing as each is hoisted into the air. Participants of both events are frequently injured and sometimes killed, but despite the obvious risks the tone of Onbashira is quite festive with lots of singing, music, and colorful costumes.

Via Colossal Art.


  1. says

    I believe alcohol may also be involved. For medicinal purposes. ;)

    Community customs are great stuff. I dunno if you’ve ever run across the “gurning contest” or the “pancake grieze”(Now “pancake day” in London) or the “color festival” “tomato war” or “punkin’ chunkin'” “dragon boat festival” “superbowl”…. I used to hang out with a morris dancer, so I got exposed to a lot of these rather bizzare things. Just this winter I was in a hall full of scotspeople listening to a full pipe band march in salute of -- a haggis.

    An old friend of mine and I talked for years (we were in high school when we had the idea!) of doing a book on unusual family customs. Some of them are pretty dangerous and weird, akin to running the bulls or skydiving. Quick quiz: which is more dangerous -- skydiving, playing golf in a lightning storm, or running the bulls?* I collected about a dozen customs; I guess my friends are not as weird as I thought.

    I wonder what an evpsych would say about this? Is it a “fitness display”? A photographer buddy of mine has a Japanese spouse and he often winds up over there shooting at events like this. A riot of color and activity. Good stuff.

    (* I actually don’t know!)

  2. rq says

    1200 years running, wow! I wonder how it’s evolved over the years -- I doubt the first couple of festivals were as flashy, and were probably more immediately practical, and simply developed into community-strengthening exercises (with, it sounds like, enough death and danger to go around). Does it add to your family’s prestige if you are killed during this festival?

  3. Numenaster says

    Speaking as a former skydiver and as the partner of an avid golfer, I think running the bulls is the most dangerous of the lot. Skydiving, there really isn’t THAT much that can go wrong: it’s just that you’re unlikely to walk away from any of it, so we give the possible failures greater weight. Golfing DURING a lightning storm could be considered a Darwin Award entry, but most golfers know better and most golf courses have trees that make a more attractive path to ground. But running the bulls puts every participant at substantial risk of not just bull-induced damage, but also slipping and falling on the cobblestones. I think the odds are far greater that you’ll suffer some kind of injury in Pamplona than at TPC Sawgrass.

  4. says

    Numenaster@#3: Thanks for the update to my risk metrics.

    Back when I used to challenge people on risk metric statistics, I’d “Which is more likely: that you’ll get hit by a metorite crossing the street or a taxicab?” Of course, taxis are the threat. But someone informed me that I had chosen the wrong example because one of the rare instances of a human being hit by a meteorite occurred in India…

    (Now it turns out it may be a scam Pictures contain a notable absence of blow-apart bus)

  5. Numenaster says

    Interesting example, Marcus. I thought the only confirmed case of a human being hit by a meteorite was in the US South, in which a small meteorite hit a lady who was sitting on her porch, I believe. She wasn’t seriously injured. I believe it appears in a Skeptoid episode.

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