It wasn’t the ceremony that anyone expected, but the high spirits of those in attendance helped to maintain a jubilant atmosphere through blizzard conditions at Kamikochi’s annual opening, the “Kaizan-sai.” This year, the cermony coincided with the start of Golden Week, which is usually known for having very fine weather.
In actuality though, there are those who think the Kaizan-sai might be jinxed with snowfall because, at this time of year, it isn’t all that unusual in the park. And in a year that saw snow fall on cherry blossom trees, perhaps it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.
The snowfall started in the early morning, but many were on hand to help with the shoveling duties. Nonetheless, the main portion of this year’s ceremony was held, not on Kappa Bridge, but rather at Kamikochi’s main bus terminal nearby.
At 11:00 o’clock, the ceremony began with a distinctively alpine flavor: a performance by several alpen horn players. As everyone knows, the Hida Mountain range, which surrounds the park is nicknamed the “Northern Japan Alps,” and the splash of European culture could serve as a further reminder of Kamikochi’s international heritage, especially through the connection to historical figures like Walter Weston.
A vital part of any Kaizan-sai is the main service performed by a Shinto priest, including prayers for safe travel within the park in the coming year. Everyone in attendance listened quietly as the ritual was enacted with the kind of solemn power characteristic of Shinto rites.
It wasn’t all solemn, however. The large crowd in attendance may have been freezing, but there was warm sake to warm their bodies and spirits as well as traditional entertainment in the form of a “Shishi Dance.” As you can see here, a shishi is a kind of mythical beast, resembling a lion, which traces its roots back to ancient Chinese legend:
We’re pleased to report that this year’s Kaizan-sai was a great success in spite of the unexpected weather conditions. To anyone concerned about the remaining snow, we’re told that it had mostly melted by the next day (at least at lower elevations like the Tokusawa campground).
Please be aware that as Golden Week continues, the park is sure to get crowded, especially on the 3rd and 4th when nearly everyone will be on vacation. Apart from that, the usual rules to enjoying Kamikochi at this time of year still apply: check the weather, dress warmly, and be sure to pack all the gear needed for what you plan to do.
As always, we invite you to visit our Facebook page with any questions or comments you might have: https://www.facebook.com/kamikochi
Join us here in spring 2013 for what promises to be a brilliant, unforgettable season!
Sources of Information:
National Park Guide website: http://npg-alps.net
Gosenjaku Group website: http://www.gosenjaku.co.jp
Shirakabaso Hotel Website: http://shirakabaso.com
Taishoike Hotel website: http://www.taisyoike.co.jp
Tokusawa-en website: http://www.tokusawaen.com