There are many things that can attract you to go to Japan. It can be the historic landmarks that hold and preserve so much history for their culture or it could be their great natural views that are incredibly well preserved and budding with all kinds of ecosystems. Japan is plentiful with these types of attractions so you may easily go to one or the other. Now, on the slight chance that you are looking for something new, an event combines both these things, you should definitely check out the multiple Kamakura Snow Festivals that happen in Japan from around the month of January until the month of February.
The History of the Kamakura Snow Festival
Before going into the basic details of the festivals and what people like about it, you should first know the history of the festivals because knowing these details will open your eyes to the deeper meaning of these unforgettable events. If you happen to be into the spiritual things that exist in the Japanese culture, you will be very happy to know that the Kamakura Snow Festivals also originate from an ancient Japanese tradition.
You have probably heard of the annual ceremony held in almost every shrine and temple in Japan called the tondoyaki. If you haven’t, worry not because it is simply the ritual wherein people burn their last year’s charms and talismans like their ofudas and omamoris. They host this ritual at the end of every year and it has been going on since the Heian Period. They would even bake mochi, which is a delicious and traditional Japanese rice ball cake dessert, over the bonfire wherein the people would burn their charms and this act was believed to bless the mochi so that the eater of it may receive good fortune as well as good health.
This is believed to be the ancient tradition that the Kamakura Snow Festivals root from because they practically do the same things in both events. The Yokote Snow Festival was the first recorded snow festival of its kind and it is said that it has been annually celebrated for over 450 years now. Unlike the tondoyaki, which is a ritual that focuses on prayers for good fortune and good health, the Yokoto Snow Festival, in particular, is one that focuses on praying to the water gods for pure and clean water which is why it is usually held along the river.
If the tondoyaki had the bonfire that people burned their charms in, its counterpart in the snow festivals is the kamakuras and snow huts that all have altars inside them so that the people residing within them can offer their good times and their prayers to the said water gods for their blessings. The mochi is also the iconic treat for this festival and those who are of legal age to drink are usually invited inside the huts to share a drink of sweet sake. Considering all the similarities of the two, it has probably become clearer to you why the tondoyaki is believed to be the reason behind the snow festivals existence in the world today.
The Top Snow Festivals to Visit
It was mentioned earlier that the Yokote Snow Festival has been a tradition in Japan for over 450 years now. It was also mentioned earlier that there are many more snow festivals that emerged throughout the years and although they share the same attractions, each and every festival is still worth going to because they are all unique in their own way. This is not to say that the Yokote Snow Festival is not worth going to anymore because it is still actually the top-rated festival of all the snow festivals in Japan.
With this being said, you might want to know where and what to expect if you do decide to go to this particular festival. It is held specifically in the southern portion of Akita, which some might know because of its closeness to the breathtaking views of the Ou Mountains that rests east of where the festival happens. Aside from the tasty mochi served in this festival, another famous dish to eat here is the Yokote yakisoba. This type of pan-friend noodle is made with thick and chewy straight noodles that are served with vegetables and fried eggs. It goes great before the mochi dessert to warm your tummy despite the cold snow around you.
Another thing that might attract you to this place is its famous lamp lit pathways that run along the riverside. These lamps are inside mini-kamakuras or snow huts and the scenery that the combination of these two simple things creates is one that will truly make you realize the beauty of the snow festival. This particular festival is usually scheduled during the middle of February and it is always celebrated in two consecutive days. A safe assumption for this festivals dates would be February 15 to February 16.
If you can’t make those dates, do not worry about it because there are many more worth snow festivals to go to aside from the Yokote Festival. The Iwate Snow Festival is an easy number 2 to the oldest of the snow festivals and this one is held in the Koiwai Farm. For those who do not know, the Koiwai Farm is the largest farm you can find in Japan. It has an area of 3000 hectares which easily translate to over 7000 acres and this massive area can be found in the western portion of Iwate.
The year of 2017 marked the 50th celebration of this snow festival in Iwate and it has gone a long way from when it started. This festival only had 12 kamakuras to offer people when it first was celebrated in the year of 1967. Presently, it is considered to be the representative festival of the entire Tohoku region. This is so because the things and attractions you can find here are not found in any other festival. This festival has large snow sculptures built in accordance with the year’s theme and it also has a huge snow slide that can make any kid just want to stay there forever.
If that didn’t entice you enough to go, you should also take into consideration the Kamakura Shokudo restaurant found here that serves its customers mouthwatering Koiwai specialties like the Jingisukan lamb barbecue. These scrumptious meals can be enjoyed by you in cozy kamakuras that are lined up in a row. The ambiance this portion of the festival has can fit both romantic and family bonding moods so families and lovers are certainly welcome. On the slight chance that all that information swayed you to go here, the only thing left for you to know about it is that it is held for a longer duration of time as compared to the previously discussed festival. This one usually lasts from the 4th day of February until the 12th day of February. The dates may change but the number of days that this festival is celebrated will stay the same.
The last, but certainly not the least, to make it to this list of top snow festival is no other than the Iiyama Kamakura Snow Hut Village. This is held in Shinanohechi in Iida which is located in the northern portion of Nagano. This attraction usually has 15 to 20 full sized kamakura which is enough space to serve 140 adults. Much like the other festivals that have their out signature dish to serve to their customers, this festival also has its own dish to serve and that would be the Noroshi Nabe hot pot. This local specialty isn’t always available so if it is when you go to this festival, make sure not to waste your opportunity to try delicious and warming dish.
Unlike the other festivals, this one lasts for quite a while. It practically starts from the last week of January until the end of February. This festival isn’t only long because it also offers certain special attractions during the weekends. For example, the weekend is the time wherein they light up the kamakuras during the night to give the people a view that they thought could only be seen in fairy tales. During the second weekend of February, another special event happens wherein mochitsuki, which is the rice pudding that is used to make mochi, becomes available to everyone so they can make their own mochi. Along with the mochitsuki come the kamakura-making demonstrations as well as the magnificent fireworks which is always a treat for those who are able to see those kinds of things.
How People Got to These Festivals in 2018 Which Will Be Useful For You in 2019
Getting to either the Akita, Iwate, or Nagano festivals is easy because of how well-connected Japan’s transportation system is. Whether you want to ride a bus, a normal train, or a shinkansen to travel to these places, you can rest assured knowing that it will not be a hassle for you to get to these places. It doesn’t matter if you are coming from Tokyo or Osaka because if you are headed to the snow festival in Akita, all you need to do is get to the Yokote Station. Most stations in Japan are linked to several train lines and bus lines but the most common route taken to get here is through the local JR Ou line, which you can board through the Omagari Station. This JR ride from Omagari to Yokoto would take you about 20 minutes and would cost you 320 yen. Getting to the Omagari Station would probably take more time than the ride taking you from Omagari to Yokote so plan your schedule according to avoid wasting valuable hours of your tripping waiting in line for the next train to get you to where you want to be.
Getting to the festival in the Iwate Prefecture is almost as simple as getting to Akita but your target station for this area would be either the JR Morioka Station, the JR Koiwai Station, or the JR Shizukuishi Station. The JR Morioka Station is an access point because there is a bus you can get on and that bus will take you straight to the Koiwai Nojo Makiba-en which is very near the festival location already. As for the JR Koiwai and JR Shizukuishi Station, they are both access points because of their closeness to the farm but there is no other way than getting a taxi to get to the actual place of the festival. From the Koiwai station, it would take you 6 minutes via taxi while from the Shizukuishi station, it would take you about 11 minutes via taxi as well.
There are also many ways to get to the Snow Hut Village. Although, despite your many possible options, they all end with one bus stop and that is the Shinanodaira bus stop. This bus stop is accessible primarily through the Iiyama, Nagano, and Shinjuku Stations. The great thing about this festival is once the visitors have reached the said bus stop, all they would need to do is walk a short distance to get to the Snow Hut Village. It seems simple enough but planning these travel schedules can be tricky so don't underestimate the travel time of these trains because coming from Tokyo alone would take a person about 2 hours to get to the final destination.
These attractions have been drawing in people for decades now so you can expect that these areas have all that is necessary to give you a comfortable and memorable experience. You will easily be able to find all kinds of hotels and resorts to stay in. If you finish soaking up the beauty of the snow festivals, you can easily opt to ski in places like Shiga Kogen or head to the nearest onsen in the area. Whichever way you look at it, you will have something to entertain you so you need not worry about those things when heading to these areas. All you need to do is plan most of it ahead of time so you can take into account any news you may hear of and you can maximize your time and money, making your overall experience all the more enjoyable.