Once upon a time, there were three brothers Taro Kika, Jiro and Saburo. Since Saburo was a honest, very courageous and dependable young man, he took over the ancestral home, where he happily lived with a beautiful princess.
However, his brothers envied him, and hatched a plot to to get rid of Saburo and steal the princess away.
So, one day, the brothers took Saburo out to Tateshina with orders to pick up some valuable treasure hidden in a deep hole in the ground. Honest Saburo quickly entered the hole without knowing that his brothers were lying. As he was descending, his brothers suddenly cut the wisteria rope he was using, and thus Saburo fell to the bottom of the abyss.
Stumbling in the darkness, Saburo arrived at a beautiful strange village. The villagers were awed at the sight of him and quickly welcomed him as their leader. However, Sabu would often remember the world outside and quietely weep. His new wife, seeing him shed such tears, told him to forget the village underground and return to his world. To help him on his journey back home, she prepared nine onigiri (rice balls).
Thus armed, he began his steep and painful journey back to the world above. Just as he finished eating the last of his nine rice balls, he suddenly spotted light far in the distance
And so it was that Saburo finally emerged from out of the Onuma pond at the Shinrakuji temple located at the foot of Mt. Asama.
There were a group of children playing happily around the pond, and on seeing them, Saburo cried out in with joy. But the children ran away, screaming, “A dragon has come out of the pond! It’s a dragon! It looks scary.”
Surprised, Saburo looked at his reflection in the water of the pond and saw that indeed, he had become a terrifying dragon. Saburo’s grief was so intense that it caused black clouds to gather in the skies and a terrible storm to be unleashed.
Then, as the far west sky became bright, the voice of the princess could be heard calling out to her beloved Saburo from the distance. “Saburo-san, Saburo-san”.
For, after searching for Saburo when he had disappeared, the princess had submerged into Lake Suwa and become a dragon.
Thus, Saburo made his way to Lake Suwa to join his beloved princess, and the two dragons lived happily ever after…
To celebrate the legend, the town of Miyota in Nagano prefecture about 150 km north of Tokyo, holds the annual Shinshu Ryujin (dragon) festival, the highlight of which is carrying the male ‘Kouga Saburo’ and female ‘Maihime’ dragons around Onuma pond
The male dragon, at 45 metres in length, is thought to be Japan’s biggest and requires 50 men to carry it…
The slightly smaller ‘Maihime’ 30-metre dragon is carried by around 30 women from the town
From the lake, the two dragons are carried up to Shinrakuji temple, where the two dragons do a wild dance to the sound of firecrackers and taiko druming.
The festival moves to the area in front of the station, and then to Ryujin-no mori Park for a collaboration with impressive taiko drums and fireworks, where the dragon’s night dance brings the festival to a climax.
A video-view of the festival:
We were unbelievably lucky with the weather, as it basically absolutely poured down for the entire day apart for two brief respites exactly during the dragon parades at Onuma and in front of the station!! Not that the rain stopped the locals from making sure they were having a great time, even if all the other events had to be cancelled, including non-stop live bands throughout the day!
Total number of other foreigners there apart from me: a few southeast Asians obviously living locally, and one group of four American girls who I did not see at the actual dragon parades.