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10 Winter Festivals in Japan You Can’t Miss

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10 Winter Festivals in Japan You Can’t Miss

Japan is famous for having large-scale festivals , which take place all year round. In winter, northern Japan, such as Hokkaido, Aomori, and Niigata, usually experiences heavy snowfall. As a result, residents of the area will celebrate the snowy landscape and special winter festivals and events.

During winter visitors to Japan can enjoy the many weather-related festivals there, from the Sapporo Snow Festival with larger snow and ice sculptures to the heartwarming igloos in Nikko. If you are interested in going on vacation to Japan during the winter season, here are some festivals that you should not miss.

1. Sapporo Snow Festival

The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the most popular winter festivals in the world. The event was held in Sapporo City, on the Island of Hokkaido. The Sapporo Snow Festival is held for one week in early February. This celebration attracts more than 2 million visitors from Japan and from all over the world.

The event featured hundreds of small and large statues and sculptures made of snow and ice displayed in 3 different zones around Odori Koen Park in the city center, namely the Odori Site, Tsu Dome Site and Susukino Site. The light will be turned on from sunset until 22.00 pm.

  • Hosted date: 4 – 11 February 2020 (Tsu Dome Site 31 January – 11 February 2020)
  • Time: all day (Tsu Dome Site 9:00-17:00)
  • Place: Sapporo City, Hokkaido

2. Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival (Hokkaido)

Lake Shikotsu is famous for having the clearest water in Japan. Visitors can see the crystal clear lake along with a series of frozen statues at night. Not only that, travelers can relax over the weekend while watching fireworks in the night sky.

Other activities include watching Wadaiko drum performances, soaking in hot springs and much more. Visitors can also take a tour with a stop at Lake Toya and spend the night at Toyako Onsen which is a hot spring resort town located at the foot of Mount Usu.

Not far from Lake Toya is Noboribetsu. Noboribetsu is the most famous hot spring resort on Hokkaido Island. Enjoy soaking in high quality water and explore the Jigokudani springs or hell valley.

  • Hosted date: 24 January 2020 – 16 February 2020
  • Time: 9:00 am – 10:00 pm. Lighting time: 4:30 pm – 10:00 pm
  • Address: Shikotsuko Onsen, Chitose, Hokkaido 066-0281, Japan
  • Website: https://houtou-special.asia/
  • Cost: 300 Yen

3. Nozawa Dosojin Matsuri Onsen

The Nozawa Fire Festival is one of the three great fire festivals in Japan. At this event visitors can witness a spectacular view with a towering fire surrounded by snow.

A shaden or temple was built from local trees, which the villagers carried through the town before construction. The Kosuge Shrine in the area will send priests to bless the building and endow it with dosojin, gods who protect foreign travelers.

During the festival, male villagers aged 25 and 42 play an important role. An ancient belief in Japan states that for men these ages do not bring luck. So the 25 and 42 year old men built the shaden out of beech wood.

The festival centers around the shaden, where men aged 25 and 42 stand guard there. Men aged 41 and 43 stood around to watch. Villagers carrying torches would barge in and burn the shadens with torch flames. The battle lasted for an hour.

  • Host date: Jan 13 – Jan 15, 2021
  • Time: 19.00 – 22.00
  • Where: Baba-no-hara, Nozawa Onsen Village, Nagano
  • Web: https://www.nozawakanko.jp/
  • Cost: free

4. Asahikawa Winter Festival

After the Sapporo Snow Festival, the Asahikawa Winter Festival is the second largest snow festival in Hokkaido. The festival attracts more than 1 million visitors every year. The visitors attended both festivals as they were held around the same time in early February.

Ashahikawa City and Sapporo City are only about 130 km apart. The festival is held in Asahikawa City, which is famous for its Asahiyama Zoo. The Asahikawa Winter Festival features a number of snow and ice sculptures and sculptures in various sizes and designs.

Even during the day, visitors can see glowing statues. There will be special events, performances and fireworks during the festival. Although this festival is not the biggest in Hokkaido but Asahikawa always has one of the largest snow sculptures and has been included in the Guinness book of records.

5. Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival – Aomori

Snowfall time in Aomori Prefecture in Japan’s northern Tohoku region is in early November. After winter arrived and the snow started to pile up, Aomori was completely covered in white snow. The prefecture is the host of the annual Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival.

The festival is held at Hirosaki Park which is a national historical landmark. This event has been held since 1977 when local residents decided to make lanterns to liven up the city during the long cold winter season.

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This hot event can only be enjoyed for a few days, so be sure to check the schedule carefully. Near Hirosaki Park, visitors can find a Starbucks built on one of Aomori’s Tangible Cultural Properties.

  • Event Date: 8 – 11 February 2020
  • Time: 09:00 am – 09:00 pm
  • Venue: Hirosaki Park Shimoshiroganecho 1, Hirosaki, Aomori
  • Website: http://www.hirosaki-kanko.or.jp
  • Cost: free

6. Otaru Snow Street Festival

The beautiful city of Otaru in Hokkaido hosts an annual snow festival that is just as stunning and beautiful. Hundreds of small lanterns float on the canal and line its banks, their soft light reflecting on the water and creating a very romantic and cozy atmosphere.

Next to the city’s defunct railway line, small illuminated snow sculptures are also built. In this place visitors can enjoy a peaceful walk through the scenery like in a fairy tale.

  • Venue: 9 February – 16 February 2020
  • Time: The main festival area is lit from 5pm – 9pm
  • Address: Unga Kaijo area, Temiyasen Kaijo area, Otaru Canal, Otaru, Hokkaido
  • Website: http://yukiakarinomichi.org/?page_id=2180
  • Cost: free

7. Sedo Namahage Festival

The Sedo Namahage Festival is a tradition that originates from the Oga Peninsula. This tradition is an event to watch the men wear clothes such as namahage or demons. The men wore strange masks and straw robes, and used replicas of wooden knives.

The festival will begin with a huge bonfire at Shinzan Shrine before the straw-clad torchbearing namahage descends on the city. In 2018, the Namahage tradition was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

  • Host date: February 8-10
  • Time: The main festival area is lit from 5pm – 9pm
  • Address: Shinzan Shrine, Namahage Museum, Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum, Akita
  • Website: https://oganavi.com/sedo/
  • Cost: free

8. Zao Snow Monster Festival

Maybe the snow monsters weren’t exactly what visitors expected, but these monsters were impressive. They covered the mountains with shadowy figures in the winter.

During heavy snowfall, the trees show unusual shapes and become juhyo, the snow monsters. These monsters are trees covered in snow so they look like monsters. This scene became the backdrop for the snow festival on the snow slopes of Zao Snow Village.

On Saturday night of the festival, tourists can see hundreds of skiers and snowboarders. They walked down the Uenodai Slope carrying fiery red torches as they slid and leapt through the air. The event ended with a beautiful fireworks display.

At night in late December to early March Juhyo looks shining. Tourists can take the ski lift whether skier or not, for 2600 round trip. The city also has a large selection of onsen to try.

9. Yokote Kamakura Festival (Akita)

This festival is a great time to take your partner on vacation as the Yokote Kamakura Festival coincides with Valentine’s Day and the day after. Even if it has nothing to do with romance, hundreds of Kamakura, i.e. little snow igloos, will glow in the dark.

The Yokka no Yuki Matsuri or Yokote Kamakura Festival has a history of about 450 years. This festival is held annually in Yokote City in southeastern Akita Prefecture on February 15 and 16.

This event features many kamakura and in each kamakura there is a snow altar dedicated to the water god. At night around 6 to 9, visitors will be invited by children to enter his kamakura.

Visitors will be offered rice cakes as well as amazake, which is a type of sweet wine that does not contain alcohol or has a low alcohol content. Later visitors will make offerings to the water god instead.

  • Hosted date: 15 and 17 February 2020
  • Time: open from 11am-9pm
  • Address: 8–12 Chuomachi, Yokote, Akita Prefecture
  • 10 minute walk from Yokote station (JR Kitakami line / JR Ou line)
  • Cost: free

10. Tokamachi Snow Festival

In Japan, the Tokamachi Snow Festival is one of the most traditional snow festivals. The festival began in 1950, the same year the Sapporo Snow Festival was held. The festival is held for 3 days in mid-February in Tokamachi City, Niigata Prefecture.

Niigata is one of the most popular vacation destinations for skiing or snowboarding for those coming from the direction of Tokyo. Visitors can access by Shinkansen within a few hours. The Tokamachi Snow Festival in 2020 celebrates its 71st anniversary.

At this festival, a number of snow sculptures and ice sculptures are displayed at various locations in the city during the festival. In addition, there will be special events taking place on a large stage made of snow including dance, singing, and fireworks displays.

  • Held Date: February 14-16, 2020
  • Time: 15 Feb 2020, 06:00 am – 09:00 pm
  • Feb 16, 09:00 am – 09:00 pm
  • 17 Feb, 09:00 – 15:00 more
  • Address: Yokote Chiiki Kyoku Mae, Doro Park, 7-9, Chuomachi, Yokote-shi, Akita
  • Cost: free

Even though Indonesia doesn’t have a snow season, we can still feel the joy of that season by traveling to countries that have four seasons, one of which is Japan. Japan has always been the target of tourists who want to watch festivals in each season. So, are you also interested in feeling the excitement of winter festivals in Japan?

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