What better way to embrace the enormous amount of snow that falls in remote Japan than to hold a snow sculpture festival?!
The small town of Tokamachi in Niigata prefecture sees up to 3 meters of snowfall each year. In the middle of an otherwise dark and gloomy winter, the Tokamachi Snow Festival gives locals as well as tourists a reason to celebrate as the streets are transformed into a buzzing festival.
The Tokamachi Snow Festival is not particularly well known. Most of my Japanese friends have not heard of it. However, each year it attracts around 300,000 people – 5 times the town’s actual population! There are lots of fun things to do, like sledding, tasting local dishes, watching kimono shows and fireworks, and seeing the ‘Carnival’ grand finale performance up at the local elementary school grounds.
Delicious Gyusuji Nikomi (beef stew) simmers in this huge cooking pot.
Sculptures of famous characters and scenes are built by local artists and can be found dotted around the town. In 2014, we saw characters such as Doraemon, Anpanman, Totoro and Monsters Inc.
Then there is the grandfather of them all: the spectacular masterpiece at the elementary school, done by professional snow sculptors. In 2014, they created a vision of Mt Fuji and a shrine.
The festival is held over the 3rd weekend of February, for 3 days. I recommend seeing the sculptures on foot – just make sure you have your rainboots and heat packs to keep warm!
Also be warned that in some years, such as 2014, snow storms can result in cancelled activities and performances. Although fresh snow can undo a lot of the hard work put in by the sculptors, it is still a great experience! It’s a bit of fun and you’re supporting the local businesses – win-win!
For visitors staying in Tokyo, the Tokamachi Snow Festival is a cheaper and closer alternative to the world famous Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido for which you need to book accommodation months in advance. Tokamachi can be reached easily from Tokyo in less than two hours. Take the bullet train to Echigo-Yuzawa, then the Hokuhoku Line to Tokamachi.
Date: 20th ~ 22nd February, 2015
Location: Tokamachi City, Niigata
Website (in Japanese): http://snowfes.jp/