Every year Tokamachi snow festival (Tokamachi yuki matsuri) is celebrated over the third weekend of February. This year the festival would be held from 15 to 17 February, 2019. It lasts for three days that is considered the first ever snow festival that was held in Japan in 1950.

This winter festival is overshadowed by the legendary Sapporo Snow Festival that takes place in Sapporo city, Hokkaido. I guess only about 10% of the total visitors of the Sapporo snow festival are familiar with this winter festival of Niigata.

Snow carnival of the festival. Photo Credit: Tokamachi Snow Festival Executive Committee.

Tokamachi itself is a small city that is famous for having excessive snowfall during the winter months. A lot of snowfall could hamper the life of its locals but they know how to deal with snowfall celebrating this unique snow festival in February.

In Japan, February is the month of snow festival. At the time, many festivals and events are held across the country. You may not able to visit all the festivals because of your tight schedule. However, in this post, I would be sharing some important travel tips as well as useful information about the Tokamachi Snow Festival.

Tokamachi – The Kimono City

Kimono queen – a pageant show during the festival. Photo Credit: Tokamachi Snow Festival Executive Committee.

Tokamachi is a renowned city for making beautiful design of kimono in Niigata prefecture. Japanese women come out to see beautiful sakura (cherry blossoms) there wearing beautiful kimono in the spring. In fact, Tokamachi Kimono Festival blows your mind thinking how decorative a kimono could be! This festival simply could show the real beauty of Japanese kimono that has a history of 1,500 years tradition.

The Tokamachi snow festival is not just about featuring snow art of making beautiful ice sculptures but also a festival that features kimono fashion show in a freezing weather. Beautiful Japanese women who wear nice looking kimonos and walk on the big ice stage could make you drive to be crazy and fall in love with those new and old kimono fashion trend.

When we fall in love with something else or like the things that make them to be loved by us then we curiously feel to be part of them, somehow or someway. The color of every kimono is made by the genuine kimono artists who offer you variety of kimono to buy from various kimonos selling shops around Tokamachi city. You can buy one of those as souvenir.

About the Snow Festival

A snow sculpture is being made. Photo Credit: Tokamachi Tourist Association.

Winter in Tokamachi could badly hurt you by presenting you a dangerous snow storm out there. Sometimes snow becomes an enemy but this sort of thought could no longer be staying in your mind when snow festival is about to begin each year in February. Local people think they are blessed with it rather thinking that snow could turn into a devil. Neither you nor I could bet on this statement since that’s the truth.

For those of you that call Tokamachi a kimono city could change your mind because this city hosts one of the biggest snow festivals in Japan. In fact Tokamachi area receives the most snow of any area on the main island of Honshu. This indicates us clearly that snow festival in this area is very special. It hosts the greatest winter festival on the side of the Sea of Japan.

Giant and small snow sculptures are made prior to the festival days across the city. It features so many impressive views by exhibiting those snow sculptures, the kimono fashion show (kimono queen), tea ceremony, Japanese folk dancing, live concert, magnificent illumination, snow sculpture contest, snow carnival, and firework display.

The snow carnival that takes place at Tokamachi Elementary School ground is quite enjoying and impressive. It is totally free to access, so you don’t have to pay admission fee. The show lasts for 90 minutes long which are very entertaining. If you miss one of these events then I am sure you would lose a very important part of the festival.

hello_kitty_snow_sculpture_tokamachi_yuki_matsuri
Hello Kitty Snow Sculpture in Front of a Shop in Tokamachi. Photo Credit: celiaintokyo at Flickr.

The main stage for the event is made out of snow featuring a particular design of giant snow sculpture. You cannot expect to see the same design this year that you had seen last year. Every year, the artists or snow sculptors want to create new design of sculpture with that snow stage to present you an impressive view of it. In the past, the stage consists of snow sculpture was certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest snow stage.

You would be offered to drink Amazake, sweet warm rice sake with zero alcohol content at various festival sites. Apart from this, you can eat delicious local dishes of Tokamachi from the food stalls you find there.

Experience a great snow holiday in Tokamachi where there are lots of fun things to do such as eating local dishes, sledding, entertainment show performed by popular Japanese celebrities and more. You would be surprised to know that not only skilled snow sculptors make beautiful snow sculptures there but also local school students and shop keepers.

The festival helps Tokamachi residents expressing their warm hospitality to the visitors of the snow festival. You can be part of it and share your own feelings and experiences with your friends and family members.

The Stunning Snow Sculptures

Stunning snow sculptures of Tokamachi snow festival. Photo Credit: Tokamachi Snow Festival Executive Committee.

According to my travel experience, I think this snow festival could reveal another part of beautiful Japan. You should visit as many as snow sculptures you could during the festival time. It is an old tradition of seeing the art of snow in such form. So, why not to pay our gratitude toward the snow sculptors who make these to entertain us by visiting their creations!

The stage where the carnival show and other entertainment shows take place consists of a giant snow sculpture. School children and residents of Tokamachi are very dedicated to making attractive sculptures and they all have an intention to make your visit memorable and exciting.

They create popular manga and anime characters snow sculptures across the city including Japanese historical and iconic figures, such as Mt. Fuji, Temple & Shrines, Castles and etc. You even could see snow sculptures and figures of Hello Kitty and other cute Japanese cartoon characters in front of many shops and stores.

There are two most popular sites to experience beautiful snow sculptures, they are known as 1) Community Hiroba and 2) Welcome Hiroba. Both of these sites get crowded with those sculptures, winter sports activity grounds and food stalls. Access to Community Hiroba from Tokamachi station requires only a-10 minute walk. I do have a favor to you that please walk rather than riding on buses around the city to see all the events and sculptures.

How to Get There?

There are numbers of sites or spots in which many shows and ice sculptures could be seen and most of the sites are not located far away from each other. You can get there and observe the sites that are located in the city center area easily just talking a short walk. Though, if you have problem walking on the snowy streets, there are available bus services for you to take. So, don’t worry much about transportation in Tokamachi city area.

There is no highway bus service from Tokyo to Tokamachi. If you are coming from Tokyo then take JR Joetsu Shinkansen from the Tokyo Station and reach to Echigo-Yuzawa Station. From there, you need to have a 30 to 40 minutes train ride to get to JR Tokamachi Station through the Hokuetsu Express Hokuhoku Line.

Many visitors now tend to first explore Osaka then they wish to visit Tokyo by train. However, if you wish to visit Tokamachi Snow Festival from Osaka, please buy a ticket of JR Tokaido Shinkansen and get to Tokyo Station. There is no direct way of getting into Tokamachi from Osaka by JR Shinkansen. Therefore, you have got to take the route of between Tokyo and Tokamachi that I have explained above.

When you exit the train at the JR Tokamachi Station, either you could reach to the various festival spots by car, taxi or loop buses around the city.

If you are residing in Niigata city, and want to experience the festival in Tokamachi then you could get there by a train or bus from JR Niigata Station. I don’t have any idea about your Japan travel budget but if you have got enough money, it is very easy and super fast for you to get to Niigata from Osaka by air. Though, it would be costly compared to the train fare.

Where to Stay?

Tokamachi does not provide many hotels like the main city Niigata has. Though, it is possible for you to stay in nearest cities like Minamiuonuma and Tsunan located around Tokamachi. Every tourist who wishes to see Sapporo Snow Festival is guided to book hotel room in advance prior to the festival days.

I have seen that people used to book room even 3 or 4 months before the festival begins. Here you won’t have to do so because many people still don’t know much about this festival. Everything would be done nicely, no rush! I would feature some good hotels from where you can easily travel to Tokamachi Snow Festival sites.

1. Setoguchi

2. Irorian

3. Maruyama Onsen Kojyokan

4. Wafu Inn Koshiji

5. Katakuri no Yado

6. Court Hotel Niigata

7. Hotel Lungwood Niigata

8. Hotel Oohashi Yakata-no-Yu

Tokamachi Snow Festival 2019

Please don’t forget these:

Date: 15 to 17 February
Time: Begins at 18:00 and ends at 16:00 (on February 18)
Admission: Free
Official WebsiteTokamachi Snow Festival Executive Committee
Special Event: Tea Ceremony in the Snow!

Want to try a tea ceremony in winter when it snows? I have visited many tea houses which were specialized only in serving and arranging this ceremony. Actually that’s what happen there, anything else? Yes – Matcha tea and Japanese Wagashi sweet are served! Tokamachi Snow Festival lets you have this unforgettable experience. Don’t miss it!

Snowfall can’t be an issue here. Tokamachi is awaiting you to show its winter natural beauty. Get ready for it as soon as possible. Heavy snow fall could hamper the life of others but here it appears like a blessing from nowhere. If you could warmly accept it then I wish you could enjoy this year Tokamachi Snow Festival. Tokamachi residents think that snow cannot be their enemy but a friend which visits them only in winter season.