Omiwatari, which literally means Passage of the Gods, is a special natural phenomenon seen at Lake Suwa-ko in Suwa city, Nagano, during winter. The word also refers to a religious ritual that is held at the time Omiwatari is being observed. This ritual has been performed since ancient times.
When the entire surface of Lake Suwa-ko freezes completely, the ice cracks and the frozen lake surface is thrust up in the shape of a mountain. Local people believed the ridge of this ice mountain was the passage walked on by gods and they called the phenomenon Omiwatari or Gods’ Passage.
One reason people believed this myth is that Suwa Shrine in Suwa city consists of two separate shrines situated on both the north and south sides of Lake Suwa-ko. It was believed that the gods came and went between the shrines, crossing the frozen lake during the winter time.
Once the phenomenon is observed, the head priest of Yatsurugi Shrine studies the cracks, closely referring to the past records and he holds the religious ritual to forecast the weather, the quantity of the coming harvest and social conditions for the coming year.
Omiwatari at Lake Suwa-ko is a religious ceremony that celebrates nature’s annual spectacle.
Niino Bon Dancing is a folk performing art handed down in Niino in Anan-cho, Nagano Prefecture. It is held in the middle of August as a part of events in the Bon season. Niino Bon dancing dates back to 1553, when the ceremony to celebrate the foundation of Zuikoin Temple was held, people from Shimoda in Izu province (present-day Shizuoka Prefecture) performed dances, which were later combined to the local dances and developed to the present form.
The Bon dancing is danced throughout the night during the 3 days of Bon Season. It is an old-fashioned one which is danced only with the Ondo (a chorus by natural voice) and without the Hayashi (musical accompaniments). When the Ondo group reads the first half of the lyrics, the participants continue the latter half while dancing. Regardless of age and gender, everyone joins the circle dances or the line dances to send off the spirits of the dead. Even a tourist can join the circle by following other people’s actions. It’s more like something you enjoy your self by dancing as you like than a performing art that you enjoy seeing.
After the lanterns are lit at dawn on the last day of the festival, everyone bring lanterns, in which spirits are enshrined, and send them off the town, singing a song of fall. When they go home, it is said that they must not look back because the spirits may come back to town.
The Lake Suwa Festival Fireworks Display held on August 15 every year is one of the major fireworks displays in Japan. It started in 1949 as the anniversary commemorating the end of World War II. The festival stars with silent prayer for the victims of the war at 7:00 PM. Then 42,000 fireworks are launched from the launching pads built on the lake including Hatsushima Islet.
The fireworks reflected on the surface of the lake are also wonderful. Highlights are Water Starmine with large semicircles bursting open one after another and the 2 km long Niagara Falls across the lake. Since Lake Suwa serves as basin form, the exploding sounds of fireworks echo with surrounding mountains, which creates overwhelming sound effect.
Nagano Prefecture is ranked first in production of fireworks in Japan, thereby a lot of pyrotechnists live in this prefecture and thus Lake Suwa fireworks are notable for their pyrotechnics.
If you have a taste for the buckwheat noodle “soba” from Japan and you like it so much that you find dining on it at a restaurant occasionally does not satisfy you, then it could be time for you to start making your own soba at home. The alluring smell of freshly made soba, its texture and taste are true bliss and it can be experienced whenever you desire by making your own soba. Essential to the preparation of soba, you will need to use a professional broad knife especially made for cutting soba by a master craftsman. The soba knife with Kuroda-shiage (black finish) is made by sharpening only the blade leaving the upper part with its original black color. It uses Yasuki Hagane White Steel, premium silver high carbon steel, which is suitable for cutting noodles into thin slices. It weighs 650g so pressing down on the dough to cut it into noodles is easy. The price is not too high but they are professional quality. It is always a good item to have in your kitchen.
Suwa Taisha Grand Shrine, located in Nagano Prefecture, is comprised of four shrines. One of the shrines, Kamisha Honguu, is situated in Nakasu Miyayama, Suwa City. The other three shrines are Kamisha Maemiya, Shimosha Akimiya and Shimosha Harumiya. The deity enshrined here are Takeminakata-no-Mikoto and Yasakatome-no-Mikoto. The shrine was ranked the most important in Nagano region.
Suwa Taisha is one of the oldest shrines, its name first appearing in Engishiki Jinmyouchou (edited in 927). It is the head shrine and represents more than 10,000 Suwa Shrines nationwide.
Onbashira Festival is an awe-inspiring grand festival held once every six years in the Year of the Tiger and the Year of the Monkey. The festival is designated as an intangible folklore cultural asset by the prefecture.
In the festival, participants cut down sixteen gigantic fir trees 16m high and 1m diameter in the mountains and take them down to the shrines. The participants then erect one tree trunk at each corner of the four shrines.
The festival takes place on two separate occasions over the course of two months. The first part of the festival called “Yamadashi” is held in April and the giant fir trees are brought down from the mountain down steep slopes and hauled with straw ropes across Miya River.
The second part is held in May and called “Satobiki” in which the logs are paraded along with the cavalry and are then erected in the shrines. For these two months, Suwa region is in a continuous state of festivities.
Onbashira Festival at Suwa Taish Grand Shrine is one of the foremost Japanese festivals with its long history and grand scale.
Hiyoshi Shrine in Aoki Village in Nagano Prefecture is considered to have been founded during the Nanbokucho period (1336-1392). Its very unique architectural style was highly evaluated and it was designated as a Prefectural Treasure in 1990.
Honden (the main hall) is built in the 5-bay wide flowing style without front entrance steps leading to the door of the sanctum. It has a copper gable roof, having a long extended front slope with a flowing curve covering the veranda. It is characterized by the long shape from side to side, and uniquely the building has only one door in the middle. It used to be painted in bright vermillion, but now all the paint has come off and the wood building material has revealed its natural color, which creates a sedate atmosphere.
The origin of the handmade fireworks of Seinaiji Village in Nagano Prefecture goes back to the middle of the Edo period, when a villager who had gone to peddle the local product, leaf tobacco, brought back a secret recipe for firework production from the Mikawa district (present-day Aichi Prefecture).
The handmade fireworks were set off to celebrate the completion of the shrine building of Suwa Shrine in 1731. Since then fireworks have been displayed in dedication to the shrine for more than 270 years. Presently, the displays of handmade fireworks are dedicated to Kami-Seinaiji Suwa Shrine on October 6 and to Shimo-Seinaiji Suwa Shrine on October 8 every year.
Today, there are more than 50 fireworks manufacturers who have obtained necessary licenses in the village. They begin to produce many different kinds of fireworks including traditional tube-typed fireworks as well as innovative ones more than one month before the festivals. It is famous that their handmade fireworks were displayed at the closing ceremony of the Nagano Winter Olympic Games in 1998.
Hanauma Festival is held on October 3 every year at Itsukinomiya Shrine in Nagiso Town, Nagano Prefecture. It has served as the annual autumn festival to pray for a rich harvest of the year for 400 years. The townspeople walk through the town from Tadachi Station to the shrine, accompanied by the music of drums and Japanese flutes played by local elementary school children. With them are three horses decorated with five-colored paper on long narrow strips of bamboo.
After the parade arrives at the shrine, the people walk around the precincts three times. Then the people in the parade as well as the spectators rush upon the horses and compete with one another to snatch the decorations, which are supposed to be ears of rice and are believed to have the power to get rid of evils and keep insects away. These decorations are then placed in the footpaths between the rice fields or at the entrances of houses.
This festival was designated as the town’s intangible cultural property in 1993 and was introduced at the closing ceremony in Nagano winter Olympic Games in 1998.