A Look into Onbashira, Tough Japanese Log Moving Festival

If riding an enormous log down a steep hill sounds like an excellent way to spend a quiet spring afternoon, the Onbashira Festival is for you. Held every six years in Nagano, Japan, the festival includes moving huge logs over tough terrain entirely 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 renew symbolically 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 divided into two parts, Yamadashi, and Satobiki, taking place in April and May respectively. Yamadashi includes cutting down and moving the logs, each of which can weigh up to 10 tons. The logs are tied by ropes and pulled up to the tops of mountains by teams of men and then ridden down the other side. The event is extremely dangerous and equivalent to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, where a brush with danger 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 raised into the air. Participants of both events are often injured and seldom killed, but notwithstanding the apparent risks the tone of Onbashira is very festive with lots of singing, music, and colorful costumes.