Winter in Japan is a magical time. Snow is something special here. Just like the spring and summer blossoms and the fall leaves, the beauty of the snowy landscape is widely celebrated in Japan with unique snow festivals. These can be urban or rural, but everyone has a unique.

Tohoku is located in the northern part of the largest island of Japan, Honshu. It’s a mountainous area with powerful winters and high-quality rice. It has many hot springs thanks to its geological activity and enjoying a bath in one is especially pleasant in the chilly winter. The region’s snow festivals have their own special character, reflecting the region’s own geographic and cultural uniqueness. No matter where you’re traveling in Tohoku, you can find an excellent snow festival this winter!

Here are seven of the best snow festivals in Tohoku:

1) Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival, Aomori Prefecture

Hirosaki Castle & Snow lanterns! Photo Credit: Hirosaki Tourism and Convention Bureau.

This magical festival takes place in Hirosaki City, at its namesake castle. While the castle is famous for its cherry blossoms in spring, it is just incredible in winter. At this snow festival, you can enjoy touring the special snow structures and snow lanterns that local groups have crafted by hand.

While impressive during the day, at night the snow structures and castle turn into a winter wonderland, with illuminations on almost every snow sculpture. You can see projection-mapped shows that perform with music on larger culture and enjoy candle-lit mini-kamakuras (igloos). There are also food stalls found here.

Entry into the festival is free. It lasts for five days in February. The food stalls and souvenir shops are open from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, with nighttime illuminations starting at 4:30 PM (after the sun sets) until 9:00PM. You can reach Hirosaki Castle by taking the Konan Bus Dote-machi Loop or by walking half an hour from JR Hirosaki Station.

Learn more about the festival in this post.

2) Iwate Snow Festival, Iwate Prefecture

Iwate Snow Festival’s fireworks display at night. Photo Credit: Iwate Prefecture.

Iwate Snow Festival is one of the largest snow festivals in Tohoku. It is spread across seven venues and ten days. You can enjoy snow sculptures, fireworks, illuminations, and a variety of special treats. Be sure to try the popular dish jingisukan, made with grilled lamb, which you can eat inside a snow hut called a kamakura. If you want something more adventurous, many of the venues offer sledding, snowshoeing, and snow tubing.  The festival occurs in early February every year.

To get there, take a train to Shizukuishi, Koiwai, or Morioka stations. You can take the Iwate Snow Festival Special Bus from Morioka Station to the festival venues.

For your perfect overnight stay, I recommend you Art Hotel Morioka, the hotel is a 8-minute walk from Morioka Station.

3) Yokote Kamakura, Akita Prefecture

Kamakura, the snow huts. Photo Credit: Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization.

In Yokote, you’ll find this festival centered around snow huts (kamakura) occurring on February 15-16 every year. It has been held for 450 years. Each kamakura contains an alter to a water deity and offerings are placed there during the festival in hope of plenty of water.

Small braziers have been set up inside as well, perfect for keeping the hut warm and for grilling rice cakes. In the evenings, children will invite visitors into the huts for these rice cakes as well as warm amazake, a rice wine with little to no alcohol content, in return for an offering at the altar.

To attend Yokote Kamakura, take one of the trains that run along the JR Ou Line or JR Kitakami Line and get off at Omagari Station. It’s a 40-minute walk from the station up to the festival, or you can take the free seasonal bus to it in the evenings.

For wonderful overnight stay in Yokoto, I prefer this hotel.

4) Hachinohe Enburi Festival, Aomori Prefecture

Dancers of Hachinohe Enburi Festival. Photo Credit: Hachinohe City.

The harsh winters of the Aomori Prefecture led to the creation of the unique Hachinohe Enburi dance, where dancers wear elaborate costumes and scrape the icy earth as they pray for spring and good harvests. Numerous performances occur in early to mid-February as the winter stretches into its hardest and hopefully last days.

Between performances by adult dancers, there are children’s performances as well as the next generation works to keep this proud tradition alive.

5) Namahage Sedo Festival, Akita Prefecture

Namahage dance performance in fornt of the large bonfire. Photo Credit: Akitafan.com.

Held every year at Shinzen Shrine in Kitaura, Oga City, this festival is combination of a Shinto “Saitousai” ritual held on January 3rdand a traditional “Namahage” weekend event begun in 1964.

A series of rituals open the ceremony, including a sacred dance, all centered around the Namahage, ogre-like beings with deeps roots in Japanese tradition. The festival features many performances including taiko drumming and folk performances. The festival is a unique glimpse into ancient traditions of the region.

Let’s find other amazing winter festivals held across Akita Prefecture.

6) Lake Towada Winter Story Festival, Aomori Prefecture

Night illumination of the Otome no Zo Statue. Photo Credit: AOMORI Prefectural Government.

This delightful, family-friendly event is held at Lake Towada every February. The site sits at the Yasumiya area and features an igloo bar, a foot hot spring, nighttime illuminations, and more. Large snow sculptures welcome visitors, while the ‘Tunnel of Light’ is a fun and striking attraction to visit. Be sure to stick around to enjoy the fireworks!

The festival is open on February weekends and Holidays. To get there, take a train to JR Hachinohe Station and take the Lake Towada Winter Shuttle Bus.

7) Aizu Painted Candle Festival, Fukushima Prefecture

Tsuruga Castle. Photo Credit: Aizu-Erousoku Matsuri.

Harsh winters mean that flowers feel like a memory, so in the 16th century, the people of Fukushima Prefecture began decorating candles with flowers to brighten the difficult winter nights.

The Aizu Painted Candle Festival is the biggest showcase of this art, occurring every February in Aizuwakamatsu. Thousands of candles are crafted and lit for visitors to admire at multiple places around the city including Aizu Matsudaira’s Royal Garden and Tsuruga Castle.

Tsuruga Castle can be reached either from Nishi Wakamatsu Station or Nanuka-machi Station. For accomodation, prefer staying in this hotel, located not far from the castle grounds.