A festival of fire and sacrifice in Nozawa Onsen, Japan
NAGANO, Japan — The icy thud of booted footsteps buffalo through flurries of snow and ember as a group of torch-wielding men make their way toward a towering beech wood shrine.
These men intend to burn the shrine, known as the shaden, to the ground.
Dating back to 1863, the Dosojin Fire Festival, held in Nozawa Onsen, is one of the country’s most famous fire festivals.
A team of nearly 100 men consisting of 25 year olds and others aged between 42-45 — all considered to be unlucky ages — come together to construct the almost 20-meter tall structure days before the festival.
When the festivities begin, the 42-year-old men climb atop the shaden as the 25 year olds — armed with pine branches — gather below the structure.
Villagers that live in the surrounding areas charge the tower with torches and it is up to the 25 year olds to defend it and extinguish the flames with their pine branches.
After an hour of battle, the shrine is eventually set ablaze as a sacrifice to the gods in order to bring good luck and health to the first born sons of the villagers.