8 Exciting Snow Festivals You Need to Check Out in Japan
The Sapporo Snow Festival is a grand spectacle of snow and ice sculptures held for seven days every year. However as one of the most popular events in Japan, people from all around the world travel here, meaning hotels and flights are booked up quickly. While Sapporo’s snow extravaganza might be the biggest and most glamorous, most people don’t realize that there are numerous other snow festivals held across the country, that don’t see quite as many crowds but are just as enjoyable.
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Tokamachi Snow Festival
With Niigata being the prefecture with the largest amount of snowfall in Japan, it’s fitting that it would be the site for a number of snow-related festivals, one of the biggest being the Tokamachi Snow Festival. For three days per year, residents in this small city band together to put the excess of white powder to good use, creating sculptures and art pieces all around houses, shops and parks in the town.
Yamagata Snow Festival
Taking place in Sagae on the outskirts of Yamagata City, the snow festival here is one of the biggest outside of Sapporo with rows of street vendors selling hot food as you stroll among the snow sculptures. Held on the first weekend of February, you'll also find stalls with games to play, performances to watch and a firework display on one of the days.
For those with an affinity for furry animals, Akita's Inukko Festival celebrates the local breed of dog, by building statues of the lovable animal out of snow, something the prefecture gets a lot of during the winter months. The festival takes place in Yuzawa towards the south of Akita and started as way to thank the dogs for their loyalty to the local people. Along with the statues you'll find dog parades, taiko drumming performances along with illuminations and fireworks at night. The festival usually takes place on the second weekend of February.
Ouchi-juku Snow Festival
Taking place in the beautiful Edo post town of Ouchi-juku, the traditional Japanese buildings become particularly stunning in the winter when they're coated in a fluffy layer of snow. Those lucky enough to visit during the second weekend of February will find the village even more beautiful, when it's decorated with traditional lanterns known as toro made of snow along with other statues. Various other events are held in the town such as soba eating contests, performances and a firework display.
Iwate Snow Festival
Another of the Tohoku area's most famous winter festivals, Iwate Snow Festival lasts for just over a week at just the start of February with snow sculptures to rival Sapporo. Apart from just the snow creations, you'll find a huge range of festival foods and snacks on offer from stalls set up around the festival area.
Aizu Painted Candle Festival
In the impressive castle town of Aizu-Wakamatsu, every year in February, the city is decorated with beautifully painted candles. The tradition first originated when family members started using candles to pay respect to their ancestors, as flowers wouldn't survive the harsh winters there, soon becoming a commonplace site around the streets.
Yokote Snow Festival
Another of Akita's numerous winter festivals, this one takes place in the city of Yokote, where hundreds of large and small sized snow domes known as 'kamakura' are filled with lights making for a beautiful winter landscape. There's a number of kamakura snow festivals around the north of Japan but the one in Akita is the largest.
Zao Snow Monster Festival
As the weather gets cold towards the end of December, a unique phenomenon covers the slopes of the Zao Mountains as trees are completely covered in thick sheets of snow. On certain dates in the winter, these 'snow monster' are lit up in different colors which makes for some incredible scenery. The dates of the festival change each year depending on the peak season of the snow-covered trees but is usually sometime in February or the end of January.
Although tourism in Japan tends to slow down during the winter months, there's plenty of fascinating events around the country during this period that makes for a wonderful time to visit.