Last Thursday we packed into my car from a drive down to Anan for the midnight - 7am snow festival. Although there was no snow in the Iida area, the mountains of Anan were packed and covered with snow, which was a bit of a surprise seeing as we're down in the south of Nagano.
Just after midnight we rolled into the village time forgot. It was pitch black, as silent as a graveyard, somewhere in the region of -8 degrees C, and we were trudging through snow and ice following a satnav system on Bryce's trusty keitei. At one point I was certain no one would ever find our bodies, but we soon found ourselves at the bottom of a crudely-cut flight of stone steps, heading up a mountain and into the darkness through the trees. We followed them up and eventually came to a tiny temple complex, itself covered in snow. Bright fires burned in the corners where locals gathered around trying to beat the cold from their fingers.
My first impression was that it wasn't too unlike a Russian refugee camp... populated by Japanese farmers. The focus of the festivities was to drive a demon from the complex buildings, or that's what I gathered (as far as I'm aware it's a tradition, there wasn't actually a demon skulking around).
Finally a long and tiring drive home put me into bed at around 4am, I think, almost in time to get up at 6.30am for work. Argh.
Lantern in the village that time forgot
"Refugee-style" fires a-burnin'
Step 1: build pyre. Step 2: light it!
A statue of that demon I mentioned above