Fests brighten snowy Tohoku region

Fests brighten snowy Tohoku region

by .
Japan Travel

Akita is one of Japan's top destinations for those looking for a winter getaway. From ski resorts to picturesque hot springs, the prefecture is primed to welcome snow lovers in style. For a bit more of a colorful experience in Japan's northern region, try to time your visit to catch one or more of the following festivals:

Moriyoshisan Snow Monsters (Mid-Jan to mid-March)

While Akita's mountains offer fantastic hiking opportunities in summer, it's worth braving the winter chill to see the unique "snow monsters" that blanket the slopes of mountains such as Moriyoshisan. This natural phenomena results when snow and ice accumulate on the branches of the mountain's trees, resulting in shapes that look like imaginary creatures. The snow monsters are best viewed from the Ani gondola, a ropeway that runs from Sanroku station to Sancho station.

Kamihinokinai Paper Balloon Festival (Feb. 10)

The city of Semboku brightens up the winter sky with a display of handmade paper balloons. The eight-meter tall balloons are decorated with images of samurai and beautiful female figures (Akita Prefecture are famed for their bijin, or beautiful women), many done in the style of ukiyo-e, or traditional woodblock prints. Some people attach wishes to the balloons, in the hope that their prayers for good health or successful school marks will be answered. The festival is held annually on February 10th at 6 p.m.

Yokote Kamakura (Feb. 15-16)

Kamakura are snow huts that resemble igloos, constructed each year for the past four centuries from the copious snowfall in the region. The huts, which can measure up to two meters in height, welcome visitors inside to enjoy grilled mochi and warm cups of amazake. The town also creates small kamakura that function as luminaries. The kamakura are constructed in the center of Yokote town, in the streets leading up to the castle. This year's festival takes place from February 15th-16th.

Hiburi Kamakura (Feb. 14)

While this annual festival in the samurai town of Kakunodate holds some resemblance to the kamakura festival of Yokote, the Hiburi Kamakura festival involves some fiery elements as well. A demonstration of fire swinging, in which bales of straw attached to a rope are set alight and twirled overhead, has its origins in fire purification rituals and is said to banish bad fortune. The festival is held every year on February 13th and 14th to welcome in the lunar new year.

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