Winter in Aomori is spectacular with the Hirosaki castle snow lantern festival. It is held every year in February that lasts for 5 days long. The festival is also known as Hirosaki castle yuki-doro festival – so don’t be confused of that. If you want to see something memorable then why don’t you go the castle grounds of Hirosaki Castle and be a spectator of this fabulous winter festival? According to my experience, my visit to this winter matsuri was quite impressive and memorable. I knew how to enjoy the festival even when you stay there for a day. In fact I have stayed there for 3 days which was romantic and poetic at the same time.
Harsh cold weather of Aomori makes something magical that everyone could enjoy perfectly through this amusing winter matsuri. I don’t dare explaining it with my words because sometimes I feel like they are not perfect enough to describe it rather a real visit to this sight could reveal everything you want to know and expect from. This article is written because I want you to get familiar with some information that could lead you enjoying all the feature of this festival inside out. Therefore, please read this article fully and let your trip be memorable with this guide.
Hirosaki Castle – Place of Scenic Beauty
Hirosaki castle, the symbol of Hirosaki and a great landmark of Aomori prefecture gets decorated with seasonal beauty all year round. It is a famous cherry blossom viewing spots in all over Japan as well. Things here are amazing in spring with approximately 2,600 cherry trees. Can you imagine it how beautiful it could be when all these sakura trees are in full bloom?
The castle is located in Hirosaki Park, a beautiful public park in which anyone could have a morning or evening leisurely stroll along the paths. In spring, sakura, moat and the three-story castle tower create a magical moment of view that what you really wish to see from a great hanami spot in Japan. Spring is not the end of finding seasonal beauty here. Something special awaits here until it gets colder and colder in February.
Snow may fall down all day long constantly and then stop suddenly, you might get crazy because of such low temperature but above all one thing remain unchanged to the residents of Hirosaki that they want to celebrate the winter on their own way. Yes, they do have their own tradition of celebrating the winter by creating snow lanterns, kamakura (snow igloo huts), illumination, and snow sculptures.
Winter atmosphere at Hirosaki castle is truly magnificent while on the other hand, autumn leaves color could overwhelm you. And during the summer, greenery view of this castle grounds offers you a bet on asking you “which one is the best season to visit this historic landmark?” To be honest with you, I don’t find the answer of this question, do you? It maybe spring or winter! I can’t choose one because both spring and winter are the best time to visit Hirosaki castle.
About the Snow Lantern Festival
A journey on frosty rambles on the grounds of Hirosaki Castle could be pretty much impressive than just walking on the snow road you find in Sapporo city or elsewhere Japan. Most of the Japanese winter festivals are composed of several distinct arts such as making giant and tiny kamakura (snow huts), snow and ice sculptures, illumination, snow lanterns, fireworks and entertainment shows. Though, every winter festival in Japan has their distinctive unique style of tradition. For example, Sapporo Snow Festival special features are the impressive giant snow sculptures while on the other hand, Yokote Kamakura Festival main feature is the igloo like houses or so called snow huts. And Hirosaki castle lantern festival’s main attractions are the snow lanterns and the miniature igloos.
The festival has begun its journey in 1977 and been celebrating it every year by the locals since that time. It is one of the top remarkable winter festivals of Tohoku regions. As this snow lantern festival takes place in Hirosaki castle’s grounds which is also part of Hirosaki Park would certainly amuse you a lot in a freezing cold weather. You should escape to the small city “Hirosaki” for things to do in winter and make the most of winter holidays. In fact it is a must see attractions in Aomori prefecture in winter.
Hundreds of traditional style Japanese lanterns (made out of snow) are crafted by the locals throughout the park area including igloo huts, and snow sculptures. This year in 2015, the festival was held from February 7 to 11. Actually, the beginning date of the festival is not fixed. But it is usually held in end of first week of every February. If next year festival is going to be started from February 11 and ends exactly on Feb 15 then there is a great chance of celebrating your Valentine’s Day in a magical way which would be totally awesome. On February 14, you can visit this park holding the hand of your lover and say “I Love You” millions of times if you don’t get tired of it! Please note that, you can stand on the Hirosaki Castle bridge and stare at the tiny igloo miniatures.
It is very much appealing when night illumination begins just right after the sunset. Each and every lantern is illuminated by candles and miniature igloos are lit up which are displayed beautiful when darkness grasps the daylight. I looked over an amazing view of those miniature igloos from the castle and that made me think of “my visit to this festival paid me off.” There are designated food stalls highlighting local favorites including some souvenir shops from where you could buy things to take home.
Be well prepared against the Cold Weather
You need to be well prepared to experience the festival fully. You may survive the winter here in Hirosaki if you live in New York, Siberia, Helsinki, Moscow or London. I guess you know how to deal with winter better than those of you who live in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippine and Indonesia. I am concerned with the visitors who are coming to visit Hirosaki Park from South or Southeast Asian region.
Due to geographical location your county’s winter weather is far different than ours. It is freezing cold out there and to fight against it you have to be well prepared enough with your costumes. It is all about the layers though!
I believe Japan’s cold weather can’t resist you experiencing our winter festivals. Therefore, I want you to buy sweater and a good quality waterproof jacket. It is slippery walking down the street on a snowy weather so you better bring a pair of boot which is non-slippery and skid. And other winter clothing ideas like wearing scarf around your neck, thermal socks, snow hat and gloves are awfully needed. You can have some ideas reading this how to dress right and enjoy Japan’s winter.
Where to Stay?
It is totally up to you where you would decide to stay in – near the JR Hirosaki Station or Hirosaki Castle. There are several good quality hotels around the city but I better feature the hotels which can be easily accessed to Hirosaki Park. You even can have a relaxing hot spring bath at the hotels located Hirosaki after having a day trip to this city.
- Ishiba Ryokan – a 10 Minute Walk from Hirosaki Castle
- Kobori Ryokan – a 10-minute drive from JR Hirosaki Train Station
- Toyoko Inn Hirosaki Ekimae – a 7-minute drive from Hirosaki Castle
- Hirosaki Plaza Hotel – a 7-minute walk from the Hirosaki Bus Terminal
- Dormy Inn Hirosaki – a free transfer service to/from JR Hirosaki Station
- Hirosaki Park Hotel – a 12-minute walk from Hirosaki Station
How to Get There?
Take the JR Hirosaki Station as your base point from where you can either take a walk or get in a bus to Shiyakusho-mae bus stop. If you take the bus then it will cost you 100 JPY taking only about 15 minutes to reach to the bus stop. From there it requires only 5 minutes’ walk to reach to Hirosaki Park.
Though, if you have got enough time and want to stay a night at a hotel located in Hirosaki then I would highly suggest you to get there on foot. It will be a relaxing walk at the same time you could explore everything closely you see on the way to the park. Don’t worry; it is only a 30 minute walk on foot.
If you are coming from Tokyo to Hirosaki then make sure you take the Hayabusa train of Tohoku Shinkansen. It departs from Tokyo Station and you get off the train when you reach to Shin-Aomori Station. From there, there is a local train which takes you to JR Hirosaki Station. If you have a JR Pass or East JR Pass then you won’t have to worry much. Find the route map here.
There is a long distance bus route which directly takes you to Hirosaki Bus Terminal from Ueno Station Tokyo. This service is offered by Konan Bus Company offering you a daytime highway bus service. You can’t enjoy the beautiful outdoor scenery entire way when you look through the bus window. Please find more information about access to Hirosaki before coming to this place.
Are you Going to Visit It?
Aomori nebuta matsuri is the king of summer matsuri in Aomori prefecture so is the Hirosaki castle lantern festival for the winter season. Maybe Nebuta matsuri is much more eye-catching event than the lantern festival though when it comes to winter festival it becomes an unforgettable magical event that you would never forget.
Compared to Sapporo snow festival and Otaru Snow Light Path festival this is less crowded and a peaceful place to have a great winter vacation in Aomori. Maybe someday, you could make it much more attractive sharing your travel experiences with the world. I truly believe your word of mouth could contribute something special for this yearly winter event in Hirosaki.
Please note that, apple of Aomori has a great taste so don’t leave Hirosaki until you take a bite out of an apple.
Copyright 2015 @ takkhis