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10 Best Snow Festivals to Experience in Japan

Does Japan’s winter season inspire you to discover its top winter attractions? The snow festivals of Japan are a great source of getting familiar with the traditional Japanese culture and traditions that locals follow.

To be honest with you, winter is an inspiring season for me. Even though it is regarded as the end of the growing season from the view point of nature, I myself feel very moving.

Probably I am too much excited to participate in the snow festivals held throughout Japan. I am pleased to inform all of you that, Japan hosts a number of famous snow matsuri.

Most of them have their own unique highlights to impress your soul. How cool is that! Seriously, you will be delighted experiencing the festivals along with having the delicious Japan’s winter foods.

Otaru canal in winter. Photo Credit: Reginald Pentinio at Flickr.

In winter, temperatures begin to drop, snow start falling all over creating an icy weather. The days become shorter, and nighttime arrives earlier. If this is the weather you admire, a trip to Japan in the winter would be a great idea than nothing.

Don’t be afraid of the chilly winter weather here, especially when you travel in the northern Japan. When winter rolls around, some part of central Japan make you feel like you are in Hokkaido. If you dress up well and walk carefully, there is nothing to worry about.

However, today I will expose the top 10 snow festivals you could participate in this winter in Japan. If you are planning an upcoming trip to Japan this winter, try to explore one of the following winter festivals. You will be impressed!

1) Sapporo Yuki Matsuri

A giant snow sculpture at Odori during Sapporo Snow Festival. Photo Credit: Takuya Yoshimura at Flickr.

Sapporo Yuki Matsuri or Sapporo Snow Festival is said to be the biggest snow festival in Japan. It started its journey in 1950 with a hope of attracting tons of visitors.

It is said that Hokkaido has so many things to do and see throughout the year and this festival is just the ONE you will be delighted to experience. Every year, it is held in the second week of February at Odori Park in downtown Sapporo.

More than two million both domestic and foreign visitors participate in the festival. They are all interested in visiting this winter festival because it offers a unique and once in a lifetime experience.

Don’t you think that observing rows of giant snow and ice sculptures with live stage events are worth a visit?

Ice Sculptures! Photo Credit: Charles Lam at Flickr.

Please note that the festival is held at three different locations. It is breathtaking experiencing the gigantic snow sculptures in the Odori Park. While at the Susukino Site, it exhibits about one hundred ice sculptures.

They look pretty gorgeous in the evening and at night when each and every ice sculpture is lit up.

The third location – Tsu Dome Site is particularly famous for having some fun time with snow slides and snow rafting. The site is packed with lots of kids during the festival time. Surly they know how to enjoy the winter!

No surprise that their parents like it too! In addition, find the food stalls and watch the live stage events performed by many artists. Good luck!

Click here to learn more about the festival.

2) Yokote Kamakura Festival

Yokote Castle at night! Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

If you plan on visiting Tohoku this winter in February, you should get to Akita prefecture. Do you know Why?! Seriously, you will be overwhelmed by the atmosphere you receive in Yokote city during the winter months.

The city is located southeast corner of Akita Prefecture. It’s a famous place to see large and small sizes of Kamakura or so called igloo-like snow houses.

Yokote transforms into a winter wonderland once they are all built at different locations across the city. You can have delicious rice cakes (mochi) and drink sweet sake (amazake) inside a big size snow hut. Please bear in mind locals there are hospitable and friendly!

The small kamakura, that are usually seen along the Yokote River look amazingly beautiful, especially when they are illuminated by candles at night. Sometimes words can’t describe the breathtaking views! Want to know more about this festival? Please read this post right away.

3) Asahikawa Winter Festival

Asahikawa winter festival’s giant snow stage. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Asahikawa winter festival (Asahikawa Fuyu Matsuri) is truly stunning. It is said to be the second largest snow festivals in the Hokkaido regions.

If you are looking for a real winter adventure then a trip to this snow festival will be an unforgettable experience. The festival is held in early February, in two different locations: 1) Asahibashi site, and 2) Heiwa Dori.

What impresses me the most about this snow festival is, I can’t wait to see the biggest snow sculpture there! In fact, it is used as a stage for music and other live performances.

The stage has a different theme for each year. Who knows what theme it has got for this year?! Of course they are going to surprise me and you too.

To learn more about this snow matsuri please read this article where I have described everything that you need to know before visiting this crazy winter event.

4) Tokamachi Snow Festival

The snow carnival and firework display. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

According to my experience, Tokamachi Snow Festival is the biggest snow festival in the Chubu region. I had participated in this matsuri several times before.

Each and every time I visited it, I was totally overwhelmed, especially the snow carnival that takes place at Tokamachi Elementary School ground.

It is always impressive looking at the snow sculptures that come in different sizes featuring Japanese historical landmarks and popular movie, anime and manga characters.

Besides, along with viewing beautiful snow sculptures you could enjoy your time participating in a tea ceremony, kimono fashion show, the snow carnival, live dancing and music stage events.

The festival has got everything to entertain you!

5) Otaru Snow Light Path Festival

Otaru Canal during the festival. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Some cities around the world particularly become beautiful upon arrival of winter season. One example of this is Otaru. It is a historic port city in Hokkaido packed with beautiful architectures and souvenirs shops.

Though visitors gather here year round, a large number of tourists from different parts of Japan including foreign visitors arrive in Otaru to experience its unique snow festival called Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi.

You can experience the Sapporo Snow Festival, Asahikawa Winter Festival, and Otaru Snow Light Path Festival with a trip to Hokkaido in early February. You can check out the festival schedule here in this page.

The glittering snow lanterns, candles and sculptures of different sizes create a great pleasant winter atmosphere.

You should take a walk along the famous Otaru canal and enjoy the surrounding view that looks impressive with the shimmering snow lanterns and illuminations.

To get to know more about this exciting winter festival including travel guide please find it here.

6) Iwate Snow Festival

Iwate snow festival’s fireworks display! Photo Credit: Jase Hill at Flickr.

I find no reason not to include this one on this list. Seriously it is amazing to participate in this snow festival. The festival is held at Koiwai farm in Shizukuishi town, Morioka. It’s a very famous snow festival in Iwate prefecture and said to be one of Tohoku’s 5 Great Snow Festivals.

In winter, constant snowfall occurs there in Iwate, as a result making either small or giant snow sculptures is not a daunting task at all.

It does create a great festive atmosphere that anyone would like to be part of. Nothing could beat this yearly winter event that sparkles all the time once it begins its journey till the end.

The main highlights of this festival are the night illumination, dancing shows, singing, fireworks display, snow sculptures and fun winter activities.

In addition, there are food stalls that offer various kinds of local foods to visitors, and if you want then you can have you dinner inside a kamakura igloo house. Are you interested in visiting this festival? Then please read my experiences and get some travel tips.

7) Hirosaki Castle (Yuki-Doro) Snow Lantern Festival

A lantern made out of snow at Hirosaki Castle. Photo Credit: www.en-aomori.com.

Four seasons natural beauty at Hirosaki castle grounds seem to me very appealing. Impressive cherry blossom display can be seen in the spring, onn the other hand, deciduous trees planted all over the castle grounds provide striking fall colors in the autumn.

Summer here is also breathtaking providing lush green space to have some relaxing time. In the winter, excessive snowfall on its ground offers making snow lanterns and snow huts.

Instead of visiting it during the daytime, you’d better get there at night as all the snow lanterns and huts are lit up with candles.

The castle grounds itself part of Hirosaki Park. During the festival, the atmosphere you feel there is really fascinating!

I could guarantee that you would fall in love with this snow matsuri once you get in and start discovering the hidden winter beauty that the park has to offer. Please read more about the festival here.

8) Zao Snow Monster Festival

The frosted cover trees of Mount Zao. Photo Credit: zaoropeway.co.jp

So far in this post you have seen some spectacular snow and ice sculptures. These are created by artists who are skilled in making various designs of snow sculptures.

But this time they are kind of useless and you really don’t need them to enjoy the Zao Snow Monster Festival or Zao Juhyo Matsuri.

The freezing winter weather is the core sculptor offering you to experience the stunning snow monsters or so called Juhyo in Japanese.

You don’t have to do anything else there, just be a spectator, that’s it! The landscape you will see there would make you feel really uplifting!

Juhyo and Zao ropeway. Photo Credit: zaoropeway.co.jp.

The festival is held at the famous Zao Onsen resorts in Yamagata prefecture. The main attraction of the festival is the snow monsters or the frost covered trees.

They are scattered all over the slopes of the Zao mountain range, truly they look very impressive in the month of February! In order to see illuminated Juhyo you have got to take the Zao ropeway.

During the festival, breathtaking night illumination is also held. In addition, you can expect to see awesome firework displays.

If you like skiing or snowboarding then go for it, you would certainly enjoy your time. Take this challenge and have some fun time with the outdoor winter activities there. You can read more about Zao Snow Monsters here.

9) Aizu Painted Candle Festival

This view is beautiful! Photo Credit: aizutabinet.co.jp

When you embark on a trip to somewhere else in Japan you should not just travel but experience most of the things you encounter along the way.

Probably some places across Japan would amaze you with their local foods, on the other hand; some other places would make you familiar with their traditional arts & crafts.

The craft that you are going to discover through this snow festival is called erōsoku or floral painted candles.

The Aizu painted candle festival is held in Aizuwakamatsu city, Fukushima prefecture. Aizu painted candles are very popular in Japan as traditionally they are lit up at the Buddhist temples or at home. I always buy them from a Buddhist supply store located in my home town.

Aizu painted candle festival’s bamboo tubes. Photo Credit: www.aizu.com.

You won’t just see gigantic snow sculptures in this festival arena; instead you will see thousands of candles painted with beautiful floral designs across the city, especially on the grounds of Tsuruga Castle, Oyakuen Garden, and Aizu Bukeyashiki.

Various techniques including bamboo tubes and covers are used to make the candle lights breathtaking and unique.

You have got to walk along the designated walking trails in order to enjoy the magical winter beauty of this popular winter event.

Come here in the second week of February and catch all the live actions! Check out this official site to get the exact festival schedule of this year.

10) Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival

Yunishigawa Onsen Kamakura Snow Festival at night. Photo Credit: S.R.G – msucoo93 at Flickr.

It is similar to Yokote Kamakura Festival, though the views are totally different, so is the length of the festival. This winter, the festival is held from late January through early March, at different sites across the town.

Yunishigawa is one of the most popular Onsen (hot spring resorts) in Tochigi prefecture that receives tons of snow every year in winter.

During the festival, hundreds of snow houses (kamakura) of various sizes are made to attract visitors. In the evening, night illumination takes place and rows of miniature snow huts along the riverside are candlelit perfectly.

You would be surprised to know that there are barbecue meals provided inside the snow huts at the Heike no Sato main venue. Enjoy it thoroughly!

Visiting Japan in winter won’t be a bad idea, in fact; endless discoveries are waiting for you here. I have highlighted only a small part of Japan’s winter beauty. Seriously you could experience many things here expect these ones.

Although winter tends to be a hard time for all living beings, some hidden winter gems of Japan would inspire you making your life moving in the right direction and enchanting.

Before you leave, please read this post to know how to dress up well in winter in Japan. Thank you!

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