Iwate snow festival is one of the five biggest snow festivals in Tohoku region. The festival is held in early February every year which is seen to be the symbol of winter in Iwate prefecture. Northern and northeastern part of Japan host country’s best snow festivals in winter season and surprisingly this is one of them. Iwate is blessed with diverse nature and the historic landmark of Hiraizumi including the Morioka Castle Ruins. Winter here is charming so is the Iwate snow festival. Due to the geographical location, here you would experience a lot of snowfalls. Excessive snowfall brings the joy of Iwate residents as they get prepared to celebrate the snow festival in February.

Iwate Snow Festival at Koiwai Farm, Moroika. Photo Credit: PS at Flickr.

Outside Japan, I assume that a very few people are familiar with this popular winter festival. In general, foreign tourists like you wish you visit only Sapporo snow festival and Otaru snow light path festival in Hokkaido. Have you ever wished to visit other snow festivals except those? Maybe you have or have not! You should put this in to your bucket list. I have found that, there is no complete article written based on this festival online or even in paperbook. That’s why I have to share my travel experiences here with you. I hope, through this article I would be able to attract thousands of new comers in Iwate to experience its wonderful snow festival.

Iwate – Where the Four Seasons of Japan Shines

Cherry Blossoms in Iwate Prefecture. Photo Credit: Jase Hill at Flickr.

I don’t go to Okinawa very often because it is too far to travel from my home town. While on the other hand, northern and northeastern parts of Japan are my kingdom where I roam around whenever I wish to. Iwate is situated in my kingdom as well, I have been visiting the beautiful historical places of Iwate over time. Iwate has a number of beautiful attractions to visit and they are arguably at their best in different season throughout the year.

In spring, many visitors from other parts of Japan come to see the rock splitting cherry tree, located in front of the Morioka courthouse. It is approximately 380 years old edohigan cherry tree which looks gorgeous when all the cherry buds are in full bloom. You may go to Kitakami city to view its wonderful sakura where there are more than 10,000 cherry trees were planted alongside the Kitakami River in Tenshochi Park. Summer Iwate offers a great atmosphere to have a day trip to several sandy beaches which are located along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean.

Autumn leaves at Chuson-ji Temple in Iwate. Photo Credit: Scarlett Tu at Flickr.

Koiwai farm gets crowded mostly in summer and winter. Here, outstanding nature with beautiful landscapes of Mt. Iwate could be enjoyed from the grounds of Koiwai farm. In summer, all the family members can spend their summer time at Koiwai farm organizing a little picnic party outdoor while children can play football on the green grounds of this farm. It is renowned for producing variety of dairy products. Everything is fresh there from vegetable to meat. Omelets filled with rice and homemade soft ice cream is to die for! Honestly, I hardly leave Koiwai farm without having them.

Koiwai Farm in Winter. Photo Credit: Jaylie Wong at Flickr.

Iwate hosts some of the most popular autumn foliage viewing spots of Tohoku region such as Chuson-ji Temple, Morioka Central Public Hall, Morioka Castle site Park, Geibikei Gorge and Genbikei gorge. Autumn leaves color can be enjoyed by a leisurely boat journey in the gorges mostly found in Iwate prefecture. Finally, when winter arrives, a lot of small and giant snow sculptures, including kamakura (igloo like houses) are built and they all get illuminated in evening during the Iwate snow festival. This is not frustrating when massive snowfall is to be occurred because without it, it would be impossible to see a winter wonderland in Iwate.

About the Festival

Snow Sculptures at The Iwate Snow Festival. Photo Credit: Shigemi.J at Flickr.

The Iwate Snow Festival is held at Koiwai farm in Shizukuishi town, Morioka. The farm is located in central Iwate. Without having any doubt in mind, I could say that this festival is overshadowed by the Sapporo Snow Festival. Though, I could hardly say that it is not famous snow festival in Tohoku region. This festival is unbeatable by the famous Chagu-Chagu Umakko event of Morioka. Chagu-Chagu Umakko is a popular summer event which attracts thousands of visitors to get together in one place every year in summer.

Snow Train Ride at the Iwate Snow Festival. Photo Credit: dancanci at Flickr.

Iwate snow festival is an incredible winter event where I have been before only twice. I feel like I am in Sapporo and experiencing its giant snow sculptures at Odori Park when I get there. It is absolutely surprising when I gaze at the wonderful firework display there and then I feel like I am at the Tokamachi snow festival. These are all sound pretty great to be part of the festival. A snow festival without having illumination at night sounds pretty odd to me because it does not offer what I really want from it. Fortunately, like other snow festivals that held throughout Japan, Iwate snow festival has caught my attention offering me illuminated snow sculptures and firework display.

Horseback Riding at the Iwate Snow Festival. Photo Credit: dancanci at Flickr.

Despite the cold weather, all the snow sculptures, igloo houses, and other things are built prior to the festival days. Once everything is done it counts the days till it get started. It begins at the right time though due to extreme weather and other circumstances the schedule may change. This year in 2016 it has been scheduled to be held from January 30 to February 7. This festival features with several interesting events such as you can have fun watching live performance shows, horse sleigh riding, horseback riding firework display at night over the main stage, looking at those lined cute igloo houses, walking through a snow maze, riding on a sledge and snow train. There is also a snow sculpture contest where the snow sculptors get rewarded for their great snow artworks by the applause of the visitors after the voting.

Firework Display over the Main Stage at the Iwate Snow Festival. Photo Credit: Jase Hill at Flickr.

You can have your lunch or dinner inside a kamakura which means you are going to have an unforgettable experience with your meal. There is a slope, made of snow, build to give you and your kid enormous joys just sledding down it. That’s the real winter fun activity we all wish to have, don’t you think so? It is very much splendid to have a day trip to Koiwai farm, after all nothing is going to be wasted but you certainly would be amazed participating in this winter festival. It is a surreal and atmospheric place to enjoy it on your own way. In fact these are the all reasons why you should get there and why it is one of the top five famous winter festival in Tohoku region.

The Yatai at Iwate Snow Festival

Yatai – Typical Food Stalls at the Iwate Snow Festival. Photo Credit: Grant C. at Flickr.

Yatai is a traditional Japanese food stall, usually seen at many festivals event across Japan. It serves various types of typical Japanese festival foods including particular famous local delicacies of a region or city. All the food stalls that are situated around the main festival event venue offer various types of fresh dairy products and dishes. Because of crowd you may not get a space to sit down on the benches to enjoy your meal.

You can eat fresh barbecued mutton or lambs from the stalls. This is a special dish in shizukuishi town which is known as Jingisukan or Genghis Khan, named after the great Mongolian ruler. If you like having fresh grilled barbecue meat then you must try it. For vegetarian, I would recommend you to have omelets, cheese, wanko soba noodles, sweets, pancakes and homemade soft ice cream.

To keep your body temperature warm in the harsh winter month of February I would tell you to drink amazake. It is a sweet drink with no alcohol. So don’t worry you won’t get drunk! You can get it from the stalls or the restaurants located at the farm.

My Experience

Yosakoi Performance! Photo Credit: Jase Hill at Flickr.

Koiwai farm, where the festival is held is a very spacious and atmospheric. Outstanding illumination in the evening and the firework display had blown my mind. When I arrived there by bus with my friends there was no snow falling but it was cloudy and freezing out there. I felt like I should have drunk amazake though! Bear in mind that you are to walk on the grounds covered with snow. If you don’t mind then read about how to dress right during winter in Japan.

I was quite curious of how my first impression would be about the festival. It did not make me sad rather my experience with it was astonishing. As I have been to Sapporo snow festival before I knew the tradition of celebrating a winter festival in Japan. The low winter temperatures did contribute to give all the snow sculptures a long last. This is actually what I hoped for before I get to this place.

Kamakura Igloo Houses at the Iwate Snow Festival. Photo Credit: Jase Hill at Flickr.

The place was built to have a winter stroll around it so yes we did it comfortably. We have found food stalls there from where it was easy to buy foods. Not only those snow sculptures dominate the festival but the food stalls as well. In fact we had a nice dinner time inside a cute kamakura. One thing I was surprised most was I have seen visitors could participate in a live performance show, they were supposed to do whatever they wanted to do. It was fun! You can do a lot of fun winter activities here alone, with friends or children. I have bought some few souvenirs for my mother while one of my friends bought two stuffed animals which were truly cute! Please note that, admission is free during the snow festival and smoking is strictly prohibited over there.

What to Buy?

Visitors are enjoying the festival! Photo Credit: Jase Hill at Flickr.

Koiwai farm is pleasant and spacious. You can buy a lot of things which are pretty cute to look at. Usually, at Koiwai farm area there are souvenir shops which operate their business all year round. A variety of traditional folk handcrafts and local gourmet foods can be found there including wooden ornaments, bags, stuffed animals, pack of Morioka reimen, chopsticks sets, wooden dolls, coin case and etc.

Kokeshi – Wooden Dolls, Morioka. Photo Credit: naho konno at Flickr.

I have seen visitors buying cute Kokeshi from the souvenir shops out there. It is a wooden doll that comes in different shapes and patterns based on a certain region or territory. I have bought beautiful Nambu cast ironware which is a designated craftwork of Morioka. It was named after Nambu clan who built the Morioka castle 400 years ago. Buy it for your friend that comes in different colors and size. If you want to know more about Tohoku Kokeshi then please read this book right away.

I don’t know if you get hungry at night after coming back from the snow festival. In case, you are then I would suggest you to buy a pack of Koiwai farm milk caramel, milk buns, pasteurized milk, and Koiwai cookies before you leave the farm.

How to Get There?

It is Sledding time in the Snow. Photo Credit: Grant C. at Flickr.

So are you planning to have a trip to Koiwai Farm where the Iwate snow festival takes place? Please note that, it takes only about a 145 minute train ride from Tokyo to Morioka Station by the JR Tohoku Shinkansen.  The train fare will be covered by the JR East Pass or Japan Rail Pass. I would highly recommend you to buy and exchange your JR East Pass at Haneda and Narita Airports.

When you get off the train, you can take a bus to get to Koiwai Farm from JR Morioka Station. It requires about 35-40 minutes bus ride from there.  There is a special bus service for the visitors who wish to see Iwate snow festival. It offers hourly bus services from Morioka station to Koiwai Farm. You can get there by taxi as well, just take a taxi from Koiwai Station and after a 10-15 minute ride you surly would reach there.

Where to Stay in Morioka?

Morioka has a number of classic hotels located around the city. Some of the hotels are located pretty close to JR Morioka Station and Morioka Castle Ruins and Park. Below are the best hotels you could stay in when visiting Morioka’s famous attractions including the Iwate Snow Festival.

  1. Hotel Carina – A 12-minute walk from Morioka JR Station.
  2. Iyashinoyado Rodem – A 35-minute drive from Morioka Castle Park.
  3. Toyoko Inn Morioka-eki Minami-guchi Ekimae – A 3-minute walk from JR Morioka Station.
  4. Kita Hotel – A 5-minute drive from JR Morioka Station.
  5. R&B Hotel Morioka Ekimae – Just A 2- minute walk from JR Morioka Station.

Please Come and Have Fun with the Snow!

Sledding at the Iwate Snow Festival. Photo Credit: Grant C. at Flickr.

My trip to this winter event was amazing and still I believe I have had a very great time spending a whole day over there with my friends. I am a snow fan; I miss it quite often when winter does not knock on my door. After the sunset the place is grasped by the darkness but it fades away once the whole festival areas are lit up with lights and when firework display is about to happen I feel like I am going to celebrate the 31st night on the New Year.

Having fun with the snow in winter is a typical way of expressing and sharing our joys with everyone. Every single moment you experience at Koiwai farm would delight you most. It would be hard to forget a winter event like this where variety famous of dairy products and unique souvenirs can be found at a single event. Don’t wait anymore, buy a JR East Pass right away and get to Morioka as soon as possible before the festival ends. Good luck!

Copyright 2015 @ takkhis