For snow and outdoor enthusiasts in Japan, Winter is a short season that requires almost every free moment to be spent outside skiing or snowboarding in fresh powder, sledding, drinking “hot-toddies” in the cold, snow shoeing in -10 degrees, cross-country skiing and more.
So, what more is there to see? Snow festivals.
Japan snow festivals are world-renowned and not to be missed.
Whether you like the idea of giant snow sculptures and slides made of ice and snow, or the romance of candle-lit paths, or you are a traveling foodie looking for local and traditional cuisine, there is a festival in Japan to suit your dreamiest Winter aspirations.
We’ve uncovered below the Top 10 Snow Festivals in Japan worth adding to your Winter schedule.
Date: Odori Site, Susukino Site: February 1-12, 2017, Tsudome Site: February 1-12, 2017
Location: Odori Park, Sapporo
Experience: If you think that your 3-tiered snowman is impressive, you’ll be absolutely blown away by the massive snow sculptures that grace Odori Park in Sapporo. This year will mark the 67th year since the Sapporo Snow Festival began and it gets over 2 million visitors from all over Japan and abroad. If the sculptures aren’t enough to keep your attention, don’t fret. This festival has multiple areas of entertainment and activities.
The Tsudome site has giant snow slides and other ways to have fun in the snow, in addition to an ice bar and colorful lighting for night-time viewing. The festival also offers ice-skating and a sake bar for those parched from sledding. Lastly, there is even an “air jumping” platform for a “Big Air” contest for skiers and snowboarders – Park Air. Whether you are into the snow art or would rather be sliding and enjoying smooth Sake, this festival is a must see! In fact, there’s so much to do here, we’ve created a comprehensive Sapporo Snow Festival Guide so you don’t miss a thing.
Date: February 15-16, 2017 (6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.)
Location: Doro Koen Park in front of Yokote City Hall
Experience: Kamakura means, a room made by carving out a mound of snow, like an Igloo. The Yakote Kamakura Festival in Akita Prefecture has a 450-year-old snow festival tradition that is dedicated to a water God. The festival is known for its 100 snow huts that are delicately installed throughout the city. Visitors can admire and enter the huts to admire the water God. Upon entering, guests are greeted with Amazake (sweet sake) and Mochi (rice cakes).
The candle lights of these snow white kamakura create a quiet, beautiful spectacle against the darkness for visitors that come from around the world. While it doesn’t have as much action, it is well-worth your time to relax and enjoy this wonderful tradition. After all, there isn’t anything else like this in the world to see.
Date: January 9, 10, 16, 17, and 23 through February 28, 2017 (5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.)
Location: Zao Onsen Snow Resort
Experience: For anyone interested in the amazing power of nature, head to the Yamagata Prefecture in Japan for their annual Zao Snow Master Festival. As the temperature drops, strange and peculiar shapes form as the Yamagata Prefecture mountain range starts to naturally freeze. These strange shapes have become known as “Snow Monsters”.
People from all over the world will come to catch a glimpse of this rare natural event. The beauty of the “Snow Monsters” is truly a natural phenomenon that can’t be seen anywhere else. It is just as spectacular to see in the daytime as it is at night when they are full illuminated, creating a magical “Snow Monster” world for all to see. And, while you’re there, get some skiing and snowboarding in! In addition to this snow festival’s remarkable phenomenon, the resort offers some of the best snow and downhill skiing and snowboarding in the country.
Date: February 11-13, 2017 (5:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m.)
Location: Aizuwakamatsu city, Tsuruga Castle, Oyakuen Garden, and Aizu Bukeyashiki.
Experience: For many, there is nothing more calm and relaxing than the glow of candles, especially during the Winter months. In Japan, “warōsoku” is the word for candle and this festival showcases thousands of candles and special hand-painted Aizu candles at the Tsuruga Castle. The paintings on the candles are spectacular and even leave a reflection on the ground.
For those who like being high-in-the-sky, climb to the top of the Tsuruga Castle and see a breathtaking view from higher ground. The beauty of the snow, the candles, the castle, and this 500-year tradition are a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Date: January 28 to March 5, 2017 (9:00am-9:00pm)
*The dates and the time may change due to temperature and weather.
Location: Heike-no-sato (1042 yunishigawa,Nikko-city,Tochigi)
Experience: Located in Tochigi Prefecture is where locals and visitors will find the Yunishigawa Onsan Kamakura Festival. When the snow starts to fall every winter, it creates a village of snow-huts, snowmen, and snow lanterns. During the day, you’ll find people enjoying the outdoors and grilling food at barbecues and gathering inside the snow-huts. The snow huts are nestled along the river and are glowing by candlelight.
In the evening, the snow huts are illuminated and is a marvelous sight to see. This is a great venue for visitors that enjoy tradition, authentic Japanese cuisine, and gathering with friends and family.
Date: February 11, 2017 (from 1:00 p.m.) and February 12, 2017 (10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.)
Location: Ouchijuku Village
Experience: Ouchijuku Snow Festival is a main attract for roughly 20,000 people in only 2 days and is held on the 2nd Saturday and Sunday in February. The main street of the festival is decorated with lanterns illuminating the road accompanied by sight of traditional dances, noodle eating contests, and people dressed in costume. Amazake (sweet drink) and Butajiru (miso soup with pork and vegetables) are consumed while local men dressed in loincloths light lanterns one by one before the evening fireworks show.
In addition, there is a photo contest held that draws photographers from around the area, to show off their winter photography to visitors passing by. So, for anyone who has a passion for photography, food, drink, while being nestled in a charming Japanese village covered in snow, get to Ouchijuku as soon as possible.
Date: January 27, 2016 – February 19, 2017
Location: Lake Shikotsu Hot Springs, Chitose city
Experience: Located about 40 minutes from Sapporo is the Chitose and Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival held in Lake Shikotsu hot springs in Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The park is laced with snow sculptures illuminated by colored lights for visitors to be mesmerized by! The sculptures are made by spraying water from Lake Shikotsu, known to have some of the clearest water in Japan, and freezing it. In addition to the sculptures, there is a large ice slide and horse rides around the venue for children.
On Saturday’s and Sundays and national holidays during the event, roughly 300 fireworks are launched. Need more? Visitors can also see Wadaiko drum performances too. And, if you can’t make it during the evening, stop by during the day for a dip in the hot springs and a warm meal in town around Lake Shikotsu.
Date: February 9-12, 2017 (9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.)
Lantern and snow sculpture illumination begins around 4:30 p.m. (dusk)
Location: Hirosaki Castle
Experience: Looking for a creative date night idea? Consider going to the Aomori Prefecture for the Hirosaki Castle Lantern Festival. The festival’s main attractions are the snow lanterns and the miniature igloos in addition to hundreds of traditional Japanese lanterns made of snow.
The park is covered with the snow lanterns, and snow sculptures. Many will view the tiny igloos miniatures, and sculptures from the Hirosaki Castle bridge. This is an extraordinary festival worth-seeing, especially for all the hopeless romantics out there.
Date: February 10th every year, from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm.
Location: Kamihinokinai in Semboku City, Akita Prefecture
Experience: Winter in Japan isn’t just about the snow, it’s also about giant paper balloons! The Kamihuniki-nai Paper Balloon Festival is spectacular! Just like hot air balloons, these paper balloons (some as large as 8 meters long) are lit by a flame and the heat helps them rise into the dark, night sky. Many of the balloons are adorned by breathtaking designs of samurai, beautiful women, and messages or special wishes from people written on them.
The intent of this event is to make a wish when the balloons float up into the sky. It is common that many people wish for good health, good harvest, good grades, or even good love. The traditional spirituality of this festival mixed with the uniqueness watching glowing giant balloons float into the night sky makes for one of the coolest of the Japan snow festivals.
Date: February 4, 2017 – February 12, 2017 (9:00am – 9:00pm)
Location: KOIWAI FARM (36-1, Maruyachi, Shizukuishi-cho Iwate-gun, Iwate 020-0507)
Experience: Different than the other snow festivals in Japan, the Iwate Snow Festival has a 4-meter-tall snow slide in addition to the maze of snow sculptures, fireworks, and snow huts filled with food and drink to share (including “Gengis Khan” grilled mutton dish).
It is truly one of Tohoku’s greatest snow festivals located at Koiwai Farm where it is popular to buy and eat Koiwai’s meat products from the on-site booths. And it doesn’t stop there, there is a restaurant serving local cuisine and drink as well as an illumination and fireworks show that light up the sky over the snow-covered farm. To say this event is comforting and charming is an understatement.
This country has an amazing amount to offer – that’s no surprise, but why not tie in one of the top Japan snow festivals into your itinerary for an unforgettable addition to your Winter trip? You won’t be disappointed, we promise 🙂
Feature image: Sapporo Snow Festival. Photo: Flickr hirotomo t
Rad's top 10 action sports, adventure events and music festivals in 2019