Suwa, Nagano Pref. – At the crest of a steep slope, dozens of men clamber atop a felled tree. Once a mighty fir reaching tens of meters high, the stripped, multiton log perched on the hill is draped in as many sacred, woven shimenawa ropes as young norite (riders) who dare to mount it down its rapid fall to level ground.
On either side of the slope, onlookers chant ritual songs while, behind the massive pillar of timber, a man with an ax severs the only rope anchoring the tree — and its norite clad in bright orange and navy garb — from a death-defying descent.
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