Suwa’s Onbashira / 式年造営御柱大祭

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Suwa’s Onbashira

Onbashira Festival (御柱祭, Onbashira-sai, map) functions as a symbolic renewal of the shrine’s buildings. The Mihashira or Onbashira  are four wooden posts or pillars that stand on the four corners of local shrines in the Lake Suwa area of Nagano Prefecture. The largest and most famous set of onbashira are those that stand on the four shrines that make up the Suwa Grand Shrine complex.

The Upper Shrine’s (本宮 honmiya, wiki, map), located in the northern foothills of Mount Moriya – currently often identified as the Upper Shrine’s go-shintai – boasts the largest number of historical buildings and structures of the four shrines, a number of which have been designated as Important Cultural Properties.

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In addition to these four main shrines, some sixty other auxiliary shrines scattered throughout the Lake Suwa area (ranging from miniature stone structures to medium to large sized edifices and compounds) are also part of the shrine complex.

During the festival, sixteen specially-chosen fir trees are felled and then transported down a mountain, where they are then erected at the four corners of each shrine. Festival participants ride the onbashira as they are slid down the mountain, dragged to the shrine, and raised, and the festival has the reputation of being the most dangerous in Japan due to the number of people regularly injured or killed while riding the logs.

This festival, which lasts several months, consists of two main segments, Yamadashi and Satobiki. Yamadashi traditionally takes place in April, and Satobiki takes place in May.

Public transport

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For sorting through transport schedules and fares, HyperDia is an invaluable companion; it computes to-the-minute directions including connecting trains, as well as buses and planes.

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 BUS >   The cheapest way to get here from Tokyo or Kyoto is by bus.

Buses are plentiful in Japan, and over the last few decades they have evolved into a major mode of intercity transportation, especially for overnight travel. Major operators of intercity include • WILLER • JR Bus ( • >> (*Bus travel in Japan)

 RAIL >   Central Japan Railway CompanyWest Japan Railway CompanyEast Japan Railway Company. >> (*Rail travel in Japan)

 AIRPORTS >   Most international flights arrive at either Narita Airport near Tokyo or Kansai Airport near Osaka; a smaller number use Chubu International Airport near Nagoya.

Japan has many great opportunities for bikers. Bike rentals can be found throughout the country, especially near popular routes. Some routes (like the Shimanami Kaido Bikeway, which takes you from Onomichi on the main island to *Imabari in Shikoku) have been set up specifically for bikers.

Aomori – Hokkaido

Inland Sea (Seto Naikai)

Kagoshima – Okinawa/Yakushima

  • Kagoshima – Amami-Oshima – Naha: A Line and Marix Line (26 hours, 14,610 yen)
  • Kagoshima – Yakushima: the Yaku-2 ferry departs every morning (4 hours, 4,800 yen) or there is the high-speed Toppy jetfoil (from 2 hours, 8,800 yen).

Sendai/Niigata – Tomokomai