Tohoku's Winter Festivals Part 1

The Tohoku region, situated in the northern part of Japan's Honshu island, is a profoundly fascinating area of Japan. A few hours from Tokyo, by bullet train, it is worthy of any visitor's time in order to delve deeper into real Japan. Not the Japan you know from YouTube or magazines but the Japan in which real people live and are proud to call home. A region which plays host to superb local cuisine, outstanding sake and festivals which have been celebrated for centuries. It's not Tokyo or Kyoto but it can be infinitely more rewarding — the people are warmer and more generous and the age-old culture comes alive through rigorous preservation and care.

Ouchijuku Snow Festival

Ouchijuku Snow Festival, up in Fukushima, is known for its handcrafted snow lanterns that line the picturesque town’s streets. Locals in loincloths light them at dusk, as firework displays light up the winter’s night sky contrasting with the thatched snow-covered buildings and snow lanterns. Visitors can expect period costume events, Taiko drum performances as well as an exciting (if not chaotic) soba noodle speed eating competition!

Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival

Yamagata’s Yonezawa City bursts into life during wintertime, seeing tremendous snowfall each year. If being home to one of Japan’s best-loved Japanese beef wagyu brands was not enough, the city also gets to embrace its reputation as a must-visit winter destination with the annual Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival. Held the second Saturday and Sunday of February on the grounds of Uesugi Shrine and Matsugasaki Park, visitors can admire over 300 painstakingly-crafted snow lanterns. Those who stay as the sun sets get to admire the lanterns lighting up creating a spectacular night illumination, alongside over 1,000 snow lamps.

Namahage Sedo Festival

In Akita Prefecture visitors are able to enjoy the unique Namahage Sedo Festival which takes place in February. Connected with the local Shinto Shinzan Shrine, performers dance and parade through the shrine grounds and participate in a religious service involving hot water and masks which have been purified by Shinto priests. From here they head to the nearby mountain where a special ceremony is held. It’s a beautiful and moving look into local traditions and performance which captivates both locals and visitors every year.

Daito Ohara Mizu-kake Matsuri

Situated in the Ichinoseki area of Iwate Prefecture is one of Japan’s most endearing and revered winter festivals. The Daito Ohara Mizukake Matsuri has been held in Iwate for the last 360 years and involves semi-naked men sprinting along a city road while being subjected to a constant flow of water being poured over them. It may seem a bit bonkers—especially in the cold of winter—but it originally stems from the Great Fire of Meireki which decimated Edo (former Tokyo) in 1657. It started from both prayer for good fortune and promoting better awareness of the dangers of fire.  

  • Ouchijuku Snow Festival
  • Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival
  • Namahage Sedo Festival
  • Daito Ohara Mizu-kake Matsuri

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