Moving the Pillars to the Starting Point
This traditional process of making the thick rice-straw ropes that parishioners use to pull the hashira is no longer universally done. Depending on the pillar, time and resource limitations have lead to the introduction of pre-fabricated ropes. Where it is still conducted, it’s a sure sign that Onbashira is approaching. It also holds enormous symbolic connotations, as the community members work together to wind the single thick rope from many strands.
Tsuna-uchi starts about 1 minute in:
This is when the parishioners make the final preparations to the pillar before Onbashira begins. The work is managed by the Kizukuri-shu. They cut the logs so that the harnesses and ropes can be attached and otherwise get the hashira roadworthy. Following that, the Motozuna-shu attaches the harnesses in a job known as wana-guri.
Yamadashi (Photo courtesy of Shimin-shimbun)
For Shimosha, over the course of the weekend, eight pillars are pulled by hand from Tanakoba, the staging area in the mountains, to Shimekake. This is a 4.6 km haul. They remain at Shimekake until the parishioners bring them down to the shrines a month later during the Satobiki portion of the festival. Along the way during Yamadashi they reach the Kiotoshizaka , the slope where the renowned log riding takes place.
Kamisha’s Yamadashi involves an even longer haul toward town. Along the way they encounter a steep slope and slide down in their own colorful kiotoshi ceremony. While not quite the daredevil spectacle of its Shimosuwa counterpart, it’s a Yamadashi highlight none-the-less. Crossing the Miya River, known as Kawagoshi, takes place shortly after kiotoshi and is another action packed part of the festival. From there the pillars are brought a short distance to Onbshira-yashiki where they remain enshrined until parishioners pull them to their final destinations during Satobiki in May.
Literally “pulling to town,” the procession to the shrines marks the pinnacle of the festival. One by one the pillars leave their resting places in a continuous procession toward their final destinations– four to Honmiya in Kamisuwa and four to Maemiya just down the road in Chino, and in Shimosuwa four each to Akimiya and Harumiya. The pillars are preceded by a jubilant procession of dancers and portable shrines. Kiyrari singing rings out all around, and crowds of parishioners and onlookers throng the hashira as they move through the streets.
Once there, one by one they raise the hashira at the four corners of the shrine grounds in an exuberant celebration known as Tateonbashira. This is the climax and final part of Onbashira proper.
Dedicating the Treasure House
The rather underwhelming final ceremony of Onbashira dedicates the newly rebuilt treasure house at each of the shrines. Back in the day it’s said the entire shrine was reconstructed every six years at Onbashira time.
This video does a decent job of condensing a number of parts of Onbashira into a manageable clip, conveying some of the color and energy of the festival. The narration is in Japanese, but the action speaks for itself: