JNTO Shares Japanese Winter Festivals Worth A Visit

Open Jaw

While many travellers may be familiar with Japan’s most famous festivals (such as Obon, observed in the month of July), many fantastic festivities and carnivals also take place in the snowy offseason.

Here are a few of those winter celebrations recommended by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).

Niigata

The city of Tokamachi is known across Japan for two reasons: as home to some of the most beautiful kimono designs in Japan and as the snowiest town on the main island of Honshu.

The Tokamachi Snow Festival (15 – 17FEB, 2020) features magnificent ice sculptures, live concerts, Japanese folk dancing, fireworks, sweet warm sake and a kimono fashion show on what is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest ice stage in the world.

Yamagata

The Zao Snow Monster Festival, running all winter long, is unique for featuring snow sculptures of a different kind: rather than being man-made, they are entirely natural.

The natural sculptures of the Zoo Snow Monster Festival. Photo credit: JNTO.

Heavy snow cloaks the trees to form monstrous figures across the frozen mountainside. The sculptures are illuminated and dot the ski slopes of the Zao Onsen Ski Resort and on Saturday nights, skiers glide down the mountain by torchlight under fireworks.

Akita

Every year, hundreds of intricately painted balloons featuring samurai, women and woodblock prints are inscribed with wishes, lit up and released into the night at the Paper Balloon Festival of Kamihinokinai (10FEB, 2020).

On the same date in Daisen City, the Kariwano Tug of War Festival is held – the largest tug of war event in Japan. Two 10-ton, 100 metre ropes -- one for men and one for women -- are pulled by thousands of participants. This 500-year old tradition is said to determine the fate of the upcoming rice harvest.

At the Hiburi Kamakura Festival (13-14FEB, 2020), dancers swing flaming bales of hay around their bodies, said to invite good fortune and success, and repel bad luck.

The brave and bold should check out the Namahage Sedo Festival (14-16FEB, 2020). Men wearing masks reflecting the demonic features of the "Namahage" carry torches through the crowds en route to the Shinzan Shrine in Oga City, where priests will reward their pilgrimage with rice cakes roasted in a giant bonfire.

The Namahage Sedo Festival. Photo credit: JNTO.

For something a little less scary, guests can visit the Yokote Kamakura Festival (15-16FEB, 2020). Miniature “kamakura” (small igloos) are candle-lit and create glowing orbs across the cityscape at night. Visitors are invited to enter the kamakura and drink warm, sweet sake, and snack on rice cakes.

Hokkaido

One of the most popular winter events in Japan is the Sapporo Snow Festival (30JAN –11FEB), attracting more than two million visitors.

Illuminated snow and ice sculptures – often measuring more than 25 metres wide and 15 metres high -- line a 1.5km stretch of Odori Park, as well as other locations around the city.

The Sapporo Snow Festival. Photo credit: JNTO.

The festival is also a hotspot for classic Hokkaido cuisine and for families, the Tsudome site offers an array of slides and snow courses.

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