If riding a giant log down a steep mountain sounds like an ideal way to spend a quiet spring afternoon, the Onbashira Festival is for you. 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.
Filmmakers from Oh! Matsuri were at the festival this year and edited this beautiful glimpse into the obscure tradition.