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The weekend of the 9th/10th was busy indeed. We had planned to go to a famous and special festival in Nagano for Sunday, when we got invited to go watch a balloon festival Saturday night. We decided to do both, and hit three different prefectures in two days as a result!

First was the balloons. We drove with Scott and Naomi, and their two nieces, to her brother’s house in Tochigi to see the balloons. Unfortunately, we missed the 5pm ceremony, so we settled for the 7pm light up instead. I don’t know if we missed them lifting off totally or not, but the next day was the actual race, so we felt a tiny bit let down. Definitely on the list to see next year!

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The balloons were going up one by one, and being lit up as they fired the hot air into the balloon. Every once in awhile they’d do it all at once!

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We worked our way for a closer view of them and for picture opportunities. Once they had all been filled, they started announcing the entries and playing music for the spectators.

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I love this video, these balloons are SO cool! Perfect with Footloose!

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Although it was dark, the cherries were really nice too! After that they started the fireworks

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More fireworks

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And the video.

Sunday morning we woke up and drove to Nagano to see the famous Onbashira festival. This festival is held only once every seven years, so needless to say it was PACKED with people determined not to miss it! Basically, they chop down a few trees to erect in front of the shrines in the area. The first part of the festival is to get the giant tree trunks to the shrine. And what better way to do that than to ride them down the mountain!

No I’m not kidding. It is a short ride, but a dangerous one, hence why they only do it every seven years. It is hours of waiting for about 5 seconds of riding, but I daresay it was actually worth it. The second part is actually erecting the giant logs in front of the shrines, which happen a month later.

We arrived in time to “see” one of these infamous tree-riding events, but actually it was so crowded we didn’t actually see a thing! Right after it finished, Kenji left to find a good spot for us to watch the next one, while I checked out them dragging the tree down the road to where it would rest for a month.

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Walking about 30 minutes from our parking place, we finally hit a few food booths… and more walking.

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The absolutely ridiculous crowd. The first picture is where we were standing, which was completely blocked to see anything. The second picture is me getting closer after it finished.

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Preparing to move the logs

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And a video of them moving by me.

I found Kenji after that surrounded by a crowd, so I took that opportunity to get us some food and drinks, then squeezed in beside him. After that it was almost an hour before the next one started.

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The crowd behind us

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Aaaaand it starts! First they have to pull it to the start of the course

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It is slow going. They break for priests to spread salt on the course. Kenji checks his camera.

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Activity… we get our cameras ready….

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And they’re off! Watch this video, it is really amazing.

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People swarm the fallen log like ants, preparing to pull it down the road.

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Trying to leave, we get stuck behind the crowds and the log, and take the opportunity to buy a few beers while we wait.

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Finally they turn, and we walk back to our car exhausted.

Thankfully no one was badly hurt this round, though we suspect there were more than a few turned ankles. It was an… interesting experience to say the least! But I think that while I’m glad I got the chance to see it, once eery 7 years is more than enough for me!

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