Lake Towada's Winter Story

Lake Towada's Winter Story

by Shawn Swinger

Braving a frozen winter night, one comes upon a festival of lights, demons, laughter and food. Samurai and demon faces carved out of snow tower over 10 meters high, lit up crimson and and blue in the crisp icy air. Thousands of visitors flock to this remote and gorgeous place each year in order to take in the experience. Lake Towada's Winter Story is the largest and most festive of Tohoku's winter celebrations. Hidden away in the mountains of central Aomori lies Lake Towada, a caldera lake of sky blue water encircled by nature. The Winter Story is held during the month of February, typically from February 6th--March 1st, but the beginning and ending dates differ year by year by a day or so (see link to festival's homepage below for specifics according to the year you go).

Events are held at the lake every day of the week for the duration of the festival. Weekdays are from 3:00 PM--9:00 PM, weekends and holidays from 11:00 AM--9:00 PM. During the day, one can see Tsugaru Shamisen (stringed instrument) performances and other local dances. Sometimes a group of high school and college aged students will perform their area's traditional harvest dances, which may sound none too interesting until you see them running around in freezing temperatures wielding giant flags, and one another, all in the barest of clothing. Akita Namahage, winter demons who scare children into good behavior, also make appearances pounding on taiko drums and mingling with the crowd. In addition to performances, there are a number of hot spring foot baths, food tents ranging from ramen to local fare, a sledding hill, pony rides through the snow, giant snow sculptures, kamakura (igloo) made into a Christian chapel for prayer and one full of real stuffed animals like bears and foxes. This author's favorite kamakura were the bars. That is correct, full service bars operating inside domes made of snow and ice. Cocktails, sake , and other drinks are served in cups made of ice. The bars themselves are interesting enough to just walk in and look around if you are not going to drink. In 2015, there were two bars, one had a giant Godzilla face (schoolbus size) carved out of the interior's ice wall with disco lights and the other was a more traditional Japanese bar where you sat on apple crates. Lastly, every evening the snow sculptures are lit up with different colors and at 8:00 PM there is a fireworks show over the lake with cascading romantic lights falling over the venue.

Practical Information:

When: Typically from February 6th--March 1st, visit the link to find out exact dates depending on the year. Weekdays 3:00 PM--9:00 PM, weekends 11:00 AM--9:00 PM

Where: Lake Towada, Aomori Prefecture. Be advised, Towada City and Lake Towada are different places. The city is about 50km away from the lake. Another thing to be mindful of, the event area is in a place called Okuse, Towada City....don't worry about the Towada City attachment! It may be confusing but the city limits of Towada stretch out over 50km, just make sure you are looking into Okuse by the lake area. I have attached a map to this article so as long as you follow it, you will be fine.

Roads/Getting there: the road between the city and the lake is gorgeous but it is a road through a forest, meaning that gas stations and shops are non existent until you reach the lake. I advise having enough gas before you leave the city for the lake.Moreover, during winter, it can be hazardous depending on the weather. There are other roads that lead to the lake, yet they are often closed during the winter. To my knowledge, the road from Towada City, Highway 102, is the best, if not the only, way to reach the lake in winter. Using Google Maps will show you the roads to the lake, but it doesn't take into account that they may be closed due to snow. If you have it on local authority that another road is safe to use, by all means do so. But to be safe, take Hwy 102 from Towada City. When you reach the lake via Hwy 102, you will see it directly in front of you, difficult to miss. Turn left, with the lake to your right side, and the venue will be in the first town you come across. If you take Hwy 102, with the map provided, you will be fine.

At the time of writing, there was a shuttle bus departing from Towada City's Art Museum at 4:00 PM every day, leaving from the lake at 8:30 PM every night, priced at ¥1,000 roundtrip. To make reservations, which are required, call  0176-23-7765/ FAX: 0176-22-7731​. There is no English service so you would have to make the reservation in Japanese.

Towada's Winter Story is a romantic and culturally rich way to enjoy the Northern Japan's frosty winters.



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