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Rings of fire light up the night at east Japan festival for 1st time in 3 yrs

Rings of fire emerge in the dark during the Hitoboshi fire-spinning festival in the village of Nanmoku, Gunma Prefecture, on Aug. 14, 2022. (Mainichi/Tetsuya Shoji)

NANMOKU, Gunma -- For the first time in three years, visitors to this eastern Japan village were treated to the spectacle of spinning rings of fire at an unusual festival held on the nights of Aug. 14 and 15.

    The Hitoboshi ("ignition") fire-spinning festival is a designated national intangible folklore cultural asset. Spectators on hand for this year's edition let out cries of delight as villagers swung around balls of burning wheat straw on Ohinata Bridge over the Nanmoku River, forming large rings of fire.

    The festival is said to have originated in 1561, with the celebration of the defeat of an oppressive local lord by famed Sengoku (warring states) period warlord Takeda Shingen (1521-1573), during the latter's invasion of Joshu province (present-day Gunma Prefecture) from Kai (present-day Yamanashi Prefecture).

    Though the ritual has continued for more than 400 years to commemorate ancestors and wish for perfect health, participation was limited to locals in 2020 and 2021 to prevent coronavirus infections.

    (Japanese original by Tetsuya Shoji, Maebashi Bureau)

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