Yokote kamakura festival has been celebrated by the resident of Akita for more than 400 years. This is a famous winter tradition of Akita prefecture that attracts thousands of visitors each year. The festival takes place in the city of Yokote in southeastern part of Akita prefecture. The more you read about this festival the more you would be interested in visiting this unique winter destination of Japan. According to my own experience, the festival is not just an ordinary one but something you really want to explore yourself or with others.
I have been there twice, first time I went alone and the second time with my two friends who were from Yamagata prefecture few years ago from now. They are really proud of the natural wonder of Yamagata which is known as Zao Snow Monsters. On the other hand, Akita is boastful with those Kamakuras including the tiny kamakuras. Here kamakura means igloo-like structures/houses or simply snow huts. The festival brings a lot joys and inspire us to be harmonious and peaceful. One can definitely enjoy the whole festival viewing those kamakura and having some rice cakes (mochi) and drinking Japanese warm sweets sake (amazake). Let’s find more about the festival and give you a clear view of it so that you could easily reach to this sight.
The Snow Huts
The 400 years tradition which has been followed by the inhabitants of Akita could proud of it as much as you proud of yourself for achieving something very special in the past. What’s the main feature of this festival? It is of course the snow huts or so called igloo-like houses. Zoo is meaningless without the variety of animal species so is the Yokote Kamakura Festival without the snow huts.
Before I had visited this festival for the first time of my life I was not a big fan of it, was I? To be honest with you, I was not until I experienced the whole festival myself especially the atmosphere inside the snow huts. Different things make different people happy, don’t they? You may like the atmosphere outside the snow huts where miniature kamakuras are light up with candle. It is picturesque and more importantly that is freezing.
It is held every year on February 15 and 16 from 18:00 to 21:00. I think you still have got enough time to decide whether you would like to visit this or not in 2016. It is said that about more than 100 Kamakuras are built across the city prior to the festival days including countless miniature kamakura. Each Kamakura is about 1.5 meters wide and 2 meters tall and built entirely from compacted snow which is then later hollowed out. A small entrance is made to get access to a wide space inside to explore the hidden beauty of kamakura. A single kamakura snow hut could hold up to about 4-6 people but there are some which even could provide a lot of spaces inside. The floors are covered with mats and to make the huts more attractive at the darkness light bulbs are hung inside. I have seen that each kamakura has a snow alter which was dedicated to the water deity, to whom people pray for ample water, family members safety, success in life and abundant harvest.
The Spots where Kamakuras are seen across the City
We remind of the city Yokote for excessive snow falling during winter season and the Kamakura matsuri (festival). I stayed few nights at Yokote in winter where I had to experience that 30 centimeter of snow has fallen overnight. After I got up from my bad I took a morning stroll out there then I saw snow was everywhere including the riverside of Yokote River. In fact, Yokote riversides get illuminated by the candle light of little kamakuras. Hundreds of small huts could make the area is one of the most beautiful photogenic places in Japan.
Near the JR Yokote Station there are few kamakuras which are built prior to the festival just to give you a fantastic atmosphere. It welcomes you to the main festival arena.
Yokote Castle which is the symbol of Yokote sparkles with those beautiful snow huts during the festival time. Average size kamakura snow huts as well as tiny ones can be found at this castle grounds. While at Minami elementary school, I have seen children were playing with snow and riding on snow slides. I felt like, I should have joined in but I did not want to interrupt them so I just left them alone. You can experience beautiful snow sculptures and mini snow huts there.
The Kamakurakan Hall which is a kind of small museum since it preserves some kamakura or snow huts in a small sized -10 Degree Celsius room all year round. If you visit this summer then please wear a jacket before you enter the room. Nearby areas of the hall are covered by beautiful line kamakura, snow sculptures and street food stall. From these stalls you can have famous Yokote Yakisoba. That’s very delicious and you would probably buy more after eating one. There is a little beautiful park near the hall called Doro Koen Park where you could see how the snow huts are made, you may take part of it if you want.
“Please come inside and worship the God of Water”
When you decide to explore the festival and take a clear view of each kamakura you may hear this message “please come inside our kamakura and worship the god of water”. It is a kind invitation offered by the groups of local children and teens who look after each of their own kamakuras and work as hosts and hostesses. It is hard to ignore such a cute invitation so get in and have some fun with them.
They are really hospitable and offer you to eat rice cakes (mochi) and non alcoholic sweet sake (amazake). In return, you will have to make an offer to the god of water at the altar. When you get in a kamakura, please just make sure that you take off your shoes and sit comfortably. There is no rush, take your time and enjoy.
You do have the right to go beyond your own imagination and this festival is the right place to do so. You could have great conversation with those children and share your opinion how you really think of the festival. They would be very pleased to answer any questions you ask to them regarding the kakamura.
How to get to Yokote Kamakura Festival?
Access to Yokote kamakura festival area from Tokyo is possible by The Akita Shinkansen (Bullet Train). It is superfast, punctual and reliable. One JR pass could take you there from Tokyo, so you can check out the JR East Pass here. The Akita Shinkansen take you to Akita Station then from there, take the JR Ou Line to Yokote Station, from where there is a shuttle bus service available for visitors. In fact, Yokote and Omagari stations are connected by hourly local trains along the JR Ou Line. Check out the timetable of JR Shinkansen here.
You can get to Yokote Kamakura Festival by other way by Yokote and Kitakami Stations connected local train service. It is cheaper than the option described above. It is possible to reach there at Yokote Station from Tokyo or Sendai but it will be time consuming and less frequent.
If you decide to fly to Akita from Tokyo then it is fine. It would only take an hour to reach to the festival area from the Akita airport by taxi. If you are currently living in the main Akita city then you could take a taxi or rent a car and then have an enjoyable car trip of about an hour to reach to Yokote.
Where to Stay in Akita and Yokote?
I am very lucky to have friends of mine who are living most of the major cities of Japan. I have a friend who is studying in Akita International University. He has rented a room from an apartment owner. When I came to Akita to experience the festival I stayed in his room for 2 nights. In fact, he was with me all the way to the festival, we had fun together. However, I did not need to stay in a hotel or guest houses around Akita or Yokote. But I want to share some hotels you could stay in.
- Hotel Pearl City Akita Omachi
- Route Inn Grantia Akita Spa Resort
- Comfort Akita Hotel
- Akita View Hotel
- Albert Hotel Akita
- Quad Inn Yokote
- Hotel Route-Inn Yokote Inter
- Hotel Wellness Yokoteji
Yokote Kamakura Festival is a very friendly and inviting yearly winter event. Akita prefecture itself is blessed with beautiful nature all year round. You just discovered a part Akita’s winter nature. There is more to share about the beauty of Akita prefecture but as winter is about to roll around I think this article would help you to realize and imagine the winter tradition of Yokote city.
Copyright 2015 @ takkhis