Aomori in winter is spectacular. If you are planning to visit the prefecture in the winter, you should experience the Hirosaki castle snow lantern festival. Celebrated for 4 days, the festival is held every year in early February. The festival is also known as Hirosaki castle yuki-doro festival – so don’t be confused of that.

If you want to witness something breathtaking then why don’t you visit Hirosaki Castle and be a spectator of this fabulous winter festival? According to my travel experience, my visit to this winter matsuri was quite impressive and memorable. I knew how to enjoy the festival thoroughly and you need only a day to make your trip a great adventure. However, I have stayed there for 3 days which was quite romantic and poetic at the same time.

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Hirosaki Castle and A Magical Snow Lantern. Photo Credit: Shinya ICHINOHE at Flickr.

Harsh cold weather of Aomori makes something magical that everyone could enjoy perfectly through this amusing winter matsuri. I don’t dare explaining it here with my words because sometimes I feel like you deserve to know my experience prior to your visit to the festival.

By reading this post you will get familiar with some information that could lead you enjoying all the feature of this festival inside out. Therefore, please read this article completely and let your trip be memorable with this guide.

Hirosaki Castle – Place of Scenic Beauty

Hirosaki Castle in the winter. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hirosaki castle, the symbol of Hirosaki city, and a great landmark of Aomori prefecture gets decorated with seasonal natural beauty year round. It is considered one of the famous cherry blossom viewing spots in Japan. Things here are amazing in the 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 can enjoy a morning or evening leisurely stroll along its impressive walking trails. In spring, sakura, moat and the three-story castle tower create stunning views 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.

Hirosaki Park in the spring. Photo Credit: Tak H. at Flickr.

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 that remains unchanged to locals 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. On the other hand, in the fall, colorful autumn leaves could overwhelm you. And during the summer months, greenery views of this castle ground offer 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 in my opinion, both spring and winter are the best time to visit Hirosaki castle.

About the Snow Lantern Festival

The festival is considered one of the most popular winter events in the Tohoku region.

In 2019, the festival will be held from February 9 to February 12.

A journey on frosty rambles on the grounds of Hirosaki Castle could be pretty much impressive than just walking on the snow and ice you find in Sapporo city or elsewhere in Japan. Most of the Japanese winter festivals seem to you fabulous with 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, main highlight of the Sapporo Snow Festival are the impressive giant snow sculptures. 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.

A Snow Lantern at Hirosaki Castle Snow Festival. Photo Credit: Hirosaki Tourism and Convention Bureau.

The festival has begun its journey in 1977 and locals have been celebrating it every year since that time. It is one of the top notable winter festivals of the Tohoku region. 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 attraction in Aomori prefecture in the winter. Hundreds of traditional style Japanese lanterns (made out of snow) are crafted by locals throughout the park area including igloo huts, and snow sculptures. Please note that, along side roaming around the park, you can stand on the Hirosaki Castle bridge and stare at the tiny igloo miniatures.

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Lined Snow Huts at Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival. Photo Credit: Drifty at Flickr.

It is very much appealing when night illumination begins just right after the sunset. Each and every lantern is illuminated beautifully by candles and lights. In addition, hundreds of miniature igloos are lit up that look amazingly 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 you can also find 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

Visitors during the snow festival at Hirosaki Castle. Photo Credit: Hirosaki Tourism and Convention Bureau.

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 that 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 should bring a pair of snow boots 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 should recommend the hotels from where you get to Hirosaki Park. You even can have a relaxing hot spring bath at the hotels located Hirosaki after having a nice day trip.

  1. Ishiba Ryokan – a 10 Minute Walk from Hirosaki Castle
  2. Kobori Ryokan – a 10-minute drive from JR Hirosaki Train Station
  3. Toyoko Inn Hirosaki Ekimae – a 7-minute drive from Hirosaki Castle
  4. Hirosaki Plaza Hotel – a 7-minute walk from the Hirosaki Bus Terminal
  5. Dormy Inn Hirosaki – a free transfer service to/from JR Hirosaki Station
  6. Hirosaki Park Hotel – a 12-minute walk from Hirosaki Station

How to Get There?

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Tohoku Shinkansen. Photo Credit: mrhayata at Flickr.

Take the JR Hirosaki Station then from there you can either take a walk or get on a bus to Shiyakusho-mae bus stop. If you take the bus, it will cost you 100 yen taking only about 15 minutes to reach the bus stop. From there, it takes 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 city, I would highly suggest you to get there on foot. It will be a relaxing walk for sure 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 from the station.

If you are coming from Tokyo to Hirosaki, 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. Please find more information about access to Hirosaki before coming to this place.

Are you Going to Experience it this Winter?

Aomori nebuta matsuri is the best summer festival 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 others that you get by visiting this awesome winter event. I honestly that believe your word of mouth could contribute something special for this yearly winter event in Hirosaki.

Please note that Aomori apples have a great taste so don’t leave Hirosaki until you take a bite out of an apple.