Winters in Northern Japan can be severe; the snow piles up and after a few months it’s understandable to be dreaming of warmer days. But every February around the Lunar New Year there are three free winter festivals in Akita prefecture that will make you want to brave the cold for a chance to experience these unique Japanese traditions.
Demons: Namahage-Sedo Matsuri, Shinzan Shrine, Oga Peninsula
Second Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in February (February 9-11, 2018)
Hours: 6:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Visit the English page for the Namahage-Sedo Matsuri here for more information.
Dogs: Inukko Matsuri, Yuzawa
Second Saturday and Sunday in February (February 10 and 11, 2018)
2018 is the year of the dog, and there’s no better time to make a trip to Yuzawa and the Inukko Matsuri. In Akita, home of the dog breed of the same name, dogs (inu in Japanese) are referred to affectionately as inukko and at the Inukko Matsuri dogs come from all around the region to receive their blessings. However, the main draw of this winter festival are the large dog statues made out of snow.
Large enough to sit on, you’ll see small children lining up to get a picture atop their favorite snow dog. The roads leading up to the main festival grounds also feature snow sculptures, smaller snow shrines line the streets and are decorated with candles and small mochi dog statues. There are plenty of food, game, and craft stalls on the main festival grounds and the adjacent streets. At night the snow statues are illuminated by candle light and children offer up mochi and amazake (a sweet sake with little-to-no alcohol) at the snow huts. Opening night also features drumming and a fireworks display.
Hours: 2/10 (Saturday) 8:30 AM - 9:00 PM
2/11 (Sunday) 8:30 AM - 8:00 PM
More information on the Inukko Matsuri can be found at the websites below:
(Japanese with English Translation)
(Event Brochure, Japanese Only)
Fire: Hiburi Kamakura, Kakunodate
Lunar New Year (February 13 and 14, 2018)
Kakunodate is best known for its beautiful samurai district and cherry blossom lined streets, but over Lunar New Year every February it is home to the Hiburi Kamakura Fire and Snow Festival. A large snow platform is constructed next to the Hinokinai River and come nightfall, participants light bales of hay on fire and swing them overhead, bestowing health and good fortune on themselves and their families. For the bravest among us, festival-goers are welcome to participate and try this thrilling ritual themselves. This is a smaller festival, with a strong community atmosphere, but foreigners are very welcome and encouraged to participate. It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect with traditional Japanese culture. The first night of the festival includes a blessing ritual, the ceremonial lighting of the fire from the kamakura snow hut, and ends with a fireworks display. The second night, these fiery displays will also take place in various locations across the city.
Hours: 5:00 PM - 8:00 PM
More information on the Hiburi Kamakura Fire and Snow Festival can be found at the websites below:
(Japanese brochure, with a map and short section in English)
Bonus: Yokote Kamakura Festival, Yokote
February 15th and 16th every year
Admission: Festival Free, Kamakurakan Hall - ¥100
Hours: 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Location: Kamakurakan Hall
Information on the Yokote Kamakura Festival can be found in English here.