Genkaishuraku is quite common in the Japan of 2017. In terms of aging population, Nanmoku-mura has ranked as number one in the country since October of 2006. As of October 1, 2013, the villagers' average age was 64.6 years old. However, they don't just sit around and watch their population dwindle. Various projects are being led by the people to reinvigorate their hometown by making the most of its beautiful unspoiled wilderness. One of the projects promotes the relocation of young people from outside the village.
Nanmoku has a beautiful natural environment, and you can enjoy different things in each of the four seasons: In spring, you can enjoy walking amongst the flowers indigenous to Nanmoku, such as katakuri and hitotsubana, picking wild vegetables, or just immersing yourself in the forest. In summer, you can fish for Iwana (Japanese chars) and Yamame (trout) in a mountain river. There are waterfalls along the river, too. You can even hike up the rivers to see the waterfalls, an activity called sawanobori. Autumn leaves and kinokogari (wild mushroom hunting) are two of the many things you can enjoy in the Nanmoku mountains. In winter, hiking trails are the best place for outdoor activity as there is plenty of sunlight. All in all, Nanmoku has abundant pristine nature, and you can enjoy each of the four seasons.
Hitoboshi, Nanmoku's big event
The summer festival called "Hitoboshi" is Nanmoku's biggest attraction of the year. The 400-year-old event is one of the largest fire festivals held in Gunma. It is said that in the Sengoku Jidai (Age of Warring States, c.1467-c.1603), when Takeda Shingen (one of the superstar samurai feudal warlords), who ruled the present-day Yamanashi,-Nagano,-and Gunma Prefectures, invaded the Nanmoku area, the local people helped him win the battle against their own feudal load. The villagers are said to have celebrated their victory by holding a fire festival. Supposedly, this fire festival has continued to this day.
This is how the festival goes. Bundles of straw, 2 to 3 meters long each, are prepared. The bundles of straw are then set on fire, and young men swing & swirl the burning straw on the Ohinata Bridge while people play flute and drums in the background. To the eyes of the spectators (as you can see in the photo), these burning bundles of straw appear to make big circles of fiery light in the pitch black summer night of Nanmoku, creating a very special and mystical festival atmosphere.
Location: Nanmoku-mura (1098 Ooaza Ohinata, Nanmoku-mura, Kanra-gun)
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