In Japan, every season is cause for an exciting event and the Japanese are famous for their wintertime festivals, called “matsuri.” These happen in almost every prefecture and celebrate the snow by displaying snow lanterns and handcrafted snow candles. While there are events throughout Japan, the ones mentioned here are 10 of the best.
For a breathtaking and beautiful experience of winter, you have to visit one of these events when you take a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.
- Jozankei Snow Lantern Festival (January to February)
- Zao Jyuho Festival (December to February)
- Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival (three days in mid-February)
- Lake Shikotsu Ice Waterfall Festival (February)
- Sounkyo Onsen Hyobaku Festival (January through March)
- Yokote Snow Festival (February 15th and 16th)
- Aone Snow Light Festival (one day in February)
- Tsunan Snow Festival (March)
- Iwate Snow Festival (about 10 days in mid-February)
- Sapporo Snow Festival (early February week-long celebration)
10. Jozankei Snow Lantern Festival
The first one took place in 2011 and it welcomes visitors with around 2,000 snow candles lit by all the local ryokan and hotels.
The handmade candles come from the staff of the hot spring resort. They comprise 100% snow and glow in a delightful way as they have strategic placement in specific shapes, like hearts.
The whole scene presents a magical sight at night.
9. Zao Jyuho Snow Festival
From the end of December through February, the Yamagata Prefecture holds one of the more famous winter festivals. Zao is a famous tourist destination and ski resort because of its Juhyo or tree-formed “snow monsters.”
These are snow peaks that form as a natural phenomenon. Heavy snow deposits on the trees sculpt around them by the fierce winds. They appear something like stalagmites in a cave. These cover the mountain and around the resort.
Visitors traveling on the ropeway get a bird’s eye view of these natural “snow monsters.” This is truly impressive at nighttime, which gives it an almost mystical quality as you traverse the area.
8. Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival
The Aomori Prefecture in Hirosaki has a snow festival that welcomes visitors and tourists with 150 handmade lanterns made by citizens and 300 mini Kamakura, or snow huts.
These flourish throughout Hirosaki Park, lining the lotus pond. Each lantern depicts a Nebuta warrior.
The dormant cherry blossom trees also behold fantastic illumination, with a delicate and soft pink light to mimic the coming beauty in spring.
All the lights, lanterns, and kamakura paint a dreamy winter wonderland topped off with fireworks. But this mid-February celebration runs for only three short days.
7. Lake Shikotsu Ice Waterfall Festival
In Hokkaido, the hot springs around Lake Shikotsu is a sight to behold. This caldera lake features ice sculptures that are natural formations as a result of lake water sprinkling onto the landscape.
The locals illuminate these natural ice sculptures with colored lights. It truly becomes something straight out of the pages of a fairytale.
The frozen lake and ice sculptures create a gorgeous winter scene not seen anywhere else. What’s more, the whole thing looks completely different at night than it does during the day.
There’s always something to discover and take in throughout most of February.
6. Sounkyo Onsen Hyobaku Festival
Picturesque and amazing, the ice waterfall sculptures in Hokkaido’s Sounkyo Onsen in Kamikawa-cho are a must-see from January into March.
The temperatures get so low, the waterfalls freeze. Sculptors come along and metamorphose the area into a fantasy land of ice. Since 1976, this festival takes place at the foot of Sounkyo along the Ishikari River.
It covers over 107K square feet (or 10,000 square meters). Artists and sculptors from all over the country come to craft snow domes, buildings, and other structures out of the fallen ice within the waterfalls.
There are plenty of opportunities for beautiful, breathtaking pictures since this is a pure night feature, complete with lights and lanterns.
Most visitors like to do the trekking tour around Lake Shikotsu and then visit the spectacular festival at night.
5. Yokote Snow Festival
Every February 15th and 16th, the Yokota Snow Festival in Akita has been going on faithfully for the last 450 years.
Famous for their 100 large Kamakura, or snow huts, each measure about 10 feet (or three meters) tall and fits about four to five people. Children invite visitors into one of these snow huts and serve roasted rice cakes and amazake.
Even though a Kamakura structure comprises 100% snow, it’s surprisingly warm inside and provides a true experience beset in a winter wonderland.
The local elementary schoolyard and riverbank have plentitudes of these snow huts in miniature form. The local citizenry makes all of these.
While this festival is a free event, you can rent one of the Kamakura for 3,000 yen (or $26.10 USD) per hour upon advanced booking reservations.
4. Aone Snow Light Festival
In Kawasaki-cho in the southern Miyagi Zao Mountains, there’s a popular hot spring, called Jyappo Hot Spring, connected with the Date family from the early Edo Period.
This famous warrior clan visited the area for curative purposes. The hot spring is what heats the public bathhouse, where visitors can take a dip after spending hours in the cold.
Around the Aone Children’s Park and the hot spring, people make around 2,000 tiny shrines, called hokora.
These comprise pure snow and use a snow candle to illuminate the little shrine from the inside. They also offer free pork soup, called tonjiru, along with hot cocoa.
This is a one-day event but the shrines attract visitors from all over the world.
3. Tsunan Snow Festival
Since 1974, in the skies over Tsunan in the Niigata Prefecture, 1,000 lanterns fly in the night. Because this is one of Japan’s snowier and colder areas, the residents here deal with extreme temperatures and winter conditions.
So, to provide a bit of cheer and hope for the coming spring, the locals use this as a means of celebration.
This festival runs throughout March that includes things like snow battles, fireworks, and live music.
You can go snow biking, sledding, and even banana boating. Fire wielders dressed as honored tengu gods, wow crowds while also keeping them warm.
There are snowboarding competitions held on the slopes of New Greenpia too. To cap off the celebration, thousands of fireworks set off amid the lanterns to add to the revelry and entertainment.
2. Iwate Snow Festival
The snow festival held in the Iwate Prefecture lasts for nine to 10 days around mid-February. It attracts millions of people every winter, making it one of the largest in Honshu.
The Koiwai Farm and Iwate Kogen Snow Park are the main venues that feature the festival, but many others participate as well.
It’s free and they offer a special bus to and from the Morioka Train Station. The snow sculptures come in various shapes along with snow lanterns, Kamakura, and sleigh rides.
The whole event gives the same look and feels similar to a theme park. At night there are fireworks while artists create snow sculptures.
What’s more, there are several hot springs where visitors can rest, relax and take a soak. It’s the perfect end to a cold day to warm the bones.
1. Sapporo Snow Festival
The most popular snow festival in Japan is the one held in Sapporo for a week at the beginning of February.
Held at Ōdori Park and other venues throughout the city center of Hokkaido, this festival displays artworks created in the shape of famous anime characters. Artists take great pains to create elaborate and accurate renditions.
These sculptures come in a host of sizes and forms, most of which reflect characters or themes from popular culture.
There will be things like Paris’s Arc de Triomphe or the White House, among many others. You can even find characters from Hello Kitty, Final Fantasy, and Star Wars.
There are no words to describe some of the sculptures as some of them appear larger than life and defy sensible physics. Once night falls, the sculptures become alive with illumination.
Daytime events are for families and children while the nighttime caters to adults with live music performances.