Town enjoys splash before deluge

Kyodo

Residents of the Gunma Prefecture town of Naganohara on Monday gathered to participate in an annual hot-spring water splashing festival at Kawara-yu Onsen.

Monday’s festival was the last to be held here because the resort has to prepare to move out before it is submerged by the completion of the Yanba Dam, the nation’s largest, in 2019.

From the early morning, men wearing traditional “fundoshi” loincloths gathered at Oyu, the resort’s communal bath frequented by local residents, and splashed hot water over one another to celebrate.

At around 6 a.m., when the temperature reached about minus 8, about 60 participants ranging from teenagers to men in their 50s roared, “Let’s celebrate!”

At the end of the event, participants broke open a decorative “kusudama” paper ball, releasing four chickens. The event peaked when the participants started to fight over the fowl.

“It’s been particularly cold this year but the festival, which was held for the last time, was a blast,” said 33-year-old Daisuke Oya, a self-employed man from Naganohara who has been a regular at each festival in recent years.

The origin of the festival can be traced back to a rite performed about 400 years ago. Then, residents offered chickens to a deity as a sacrifice, believing that the hot spring, which saw its source dry up once, would bubble up again. After the ritual, the hot water came back.

Construction of the new communal Oyu pool is currently under way.