Harumiya 4’s Yamadashi (video edition)

On April 8th, Minato’s Harumiya 4 pillar had their Yamadashi, the first part of the Onbashira festival. From the start at Tanakoba far up the Higashi-mata Valley to the end point at Shimekake, it was a raucous and energetic day. Kiotoshi, the pillar riding ceremony, was one for the ages.  Shoichi Ajisawa was at the Hananori position at the front of the pillar (pictured above). Once again this year Kiotoshi was smooth and incident free.

The first video covers Yamadashi up through Kiotoshi. The fall is at 7:00, but the false starts before are an interesting part of the process. The view is from the top of the slope.

Next, the moment that started off Kiotoshi—the Yoki-tori, Hidetomo Yamazaki, cutting the rope to send the pillar on its way. From 7:30

And finally, a unique view of Kiotoshi from the bottom of the hill…and a close call!

Top photo by Emi Yamazaki

The Pillar Riders: An Interview

As Shimosha’s Yamadashi fast approaches, a few words about the norite (nori-tay), the guys who ride the pillars down the slope, seem appropriate. The Hananori holds the honorary position at the very front of the pillar. We’ll talk about that special role in a separate post after Yamadashi.

As is mentioned elsewhere on the site, riding the pillars down the log riding slope is a relatively recent phenomenon. In typical Onbashira fashion, no one’s quite sure when or how it began. Even so, it has become an integral part of the celebration. Shimosha’s pillar riding has become so renowned that for many it is synonymous with Onbashira itself.

To become a norite, first a participant has to seriously want to do it. Then the elders and other people of responsibility in the Onbashira community decide if he is fit for the role. (Someone with only a passing relationship with the community wouldn’t be considered.)

So why would people do such a thing? Fumiaki Aruga of Minato’s Harumiya 4 pillar will be going down the slope once again Friday afternoon. In the photo at the top of the page, he’s the one standing on the pillar, dressed in red, closest to the front. Fumiaki was kind enough to answer a few questions for the blog. Check out what he had to say about being a norite and holding a role at the epicenter of the Onbashira celebration.

Q: How many times have you participated in Onbashira?

Fumiaki: This is my 5th time, my first being when I was 16.

Q: How many times have you ridden the Harumiya 4 pillar down the slope?

Fumiaki: This week will be my fourth time.

Q: So many people wonder why anyone would do this. Well, why do you?

Fumiaki: It’s like they sing in kiyari: “Now we bring the great tree from deep in the mountains down to the village to become a god.” Being chosen to accompany the pillar down the tough pass at the kiotoshi-zaka [log riding slope] is a great honor.

Q: What do you want to aim for during the festival?

Fumiaki: Doing my best and, along with the sacred pillar, overcoming the different obstacles we’ll encounter at the slope. And then to continue pulling without mishap.

Q: Do you have a message for the young people of Suwa?

Fumiaki: First of all, actually take part in Onbashira. Not just by pulling as a regular parishioner, but by joining one of the teams [ie. teko-shu, motozuna-shu]. From there, be sure to take an interest in why we hold the festival.

Q: Anything you’d like to say to the people reading this around the world?

Fumiaki: This isn’t just a “crazy” festival. It’s a grand celebration with real meaning and tradition behind it. Definitely, learn more about it on this blog.

Thank you Fumiaki, that’s a fine idea!  We pray for the safety of the norite, and everyone’s great success.

Harumiya 4 is the leading pillar of Shimosha’s Onbashira. Come out to see it (and Fumiaki!) go down the slope this Friday, April 8th, at 1 PM. A map (along with other schedule info) is at the bottom of the Onbashira in Shimosuwa page.

Photo: Harumiya 4’s Kiotoshi, 2010  By Emi Yamazaki

Bonus: Video of Harumiya 4’s 2010 descent. The actual sliding starts at about 4 minutes.


The Yoki-tori (斧取り) has a unique and important role in Onbashira. He uses a ceremonial ax to cut the rope that holds the hashira suspended over the edge of the log riding slope (kiotoshizaka). When the blade slices through the air, severing the rope, the pillar falls. There’s enormous pressure to cut it cleanly in one go. This year’s Yoki-tori for the Harumiya 4 pillar is Hidetomo Yamazaki. When asked what he’s most looking forward to during the festival, he said, “Connecting with everyone and concentrating on cutting the rope!” The short video of his recent practice below shows he’s off to a good start!

"For Onbashira," 2016. With the official Suwa-taisha seal

“For Onbashira,” 2016. With the official Suwa-taisha seal